I’ve seen French crime writer Pascal Garnier mentioned on so many blogs that I could no longer resist and had to read him. La place du mort – The Front Seat Passenger seemed like a good choice as it’s short and the story sounded intriguing.
Fabien loses his wife in a car accident. Until that day he thought they were fairly happy. At least as happy as you can be when you’ve been married for a long time and have taken the other one for granted. Still, finding out she wasn’t alone in that car but with her married lover comes as a bit of a shock. While he may not be mourning her, he’s outraged and comes to the conclusion: If that guy took my wife – I’m going to take his widow. And he starts to pursue the other man’s wife, follows her, observes her, enters her apartment.
After his wife’s death he moves in with his divorced friend Gilles. Both men are unemployed and spend their days playing with Gilles’ small son, looking out of the window, smoking pot. Their playful cohabitation is often interrupted by Fanchon, Gilles’ ex-wife, who doesn’t think it’s funny that the two men behave as if the weren’t any older than her small kid. It’s a hilarious set up.
Fabien is anything but likable. He’s sarcastic, frustrated, acerbic. His comments and observations are a lot of fun. Not everything is amusing though. He may be astute when it comes to others, but he doesn’t seem to have a good feeling for himself and so, after a while, the reader feels uneasy.
The writing is surprisingly good, placing this crime novel firmly among the more literary of its kind. I really liked how he included small details – like the movements of pigeons on a windowsill, for example.
The first hundred pages of this book were really excellent but unfortunately from then on it went downhill. What started as a great contemporary French crime novel turned into a Hollywood plot. Think “Misery” with a twist. I have no idea why Garnier chose to flush his original story down the toilet. I can’t imagine he couldn’t come up with another idea for an ending, so it must have been a deliberate choice. I’m just not sure why.
Not one of the other reviews I read had a problem with the end. I have to admit, the writing is so good, that I, too, was tempted to forgive the end but I failed.
Because the first hundred pages were outstanding, I’ll be reading more of him. I just hope the next book will not be such a mixed bag.