Boileau-Narcejac: The Fiends/The Woman Who Was No More aka Celle qui n’était plus/Les diaboliques (1952)

Boileau-Narcejac, the French writer duo, are for France what Simenon is for Belgium or Agatha Christie for the UK. They are not traditional crime writers though. Solving the mystery is not the main interest when reading them. What they are famous for is the twist in the stories. The combination of the spooky with the suspense. The density of the melancholic atmosphere. Their writing is a cinematographic one. Once you open one of Boileau-Narcejac’s psychological thrillers you feel as if you were in the middle of a movie. No wonder their books were made into movies. The most famous one is certainly Hitchcock’s Vertigo that was based on their D’entre les mort/Sueurs froides aka The living and the dead.  The second most famous one is Cluzot’s Les diaboliques that was later remade starring Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani. It will not be easy to find English translations of their work. They are out of print, I guess. This book is no exception but it is worth trying and libraries should have them, I am sure.

Sit back, open the book and let yourself be enchanted by this atmospheric, haunting tale in which there is a lot of dense fog along dark, sparely lit piers. The lanterns illuminate the quay only barely and inside the house you see a couple, Ravinel and his lover Lucienne, planning the murder of Ravinels’s wife. They are after her life insurance. Lucienne who is a doctor has planned it carefully. They will give Murielle an anesthetic and drown her in the bath. Ravinel is a salesman. He works in Nantes but lives near Paris.  They trick Murielle into coming to Nantes, kill her and drive with her body back to Paris where  they dump her in a river. But this is only the very beginning of the story. If Murielle is dead, how come she is writing letters to Ravinel? Ravinel knows the answer. She is a ghost. Isn’t she? The second part of the story takes place in  Paris which gives the writers the opportunity for detailed descriptions of little smoky bars and cafés, old, dark houses. The way they describe a Sunday morning in a house, with all the different noises, children screaming, radios blaring and the smells of coffee and breakfast is wonderfully evocative.

There will be much more confusion in this book and the end is quite astonishing.

Boileau-Narcejac are masters of their art. If you have ever seen one of those French movies, maybe Le quai des brumes with  Jean Gabin, then you know the feel. There is a certain visual simplicity that is highly atmospherical. A solitary lamppost on an empty street, its yellow halo penetrating the fog. A lonely person in a room smoking and thinking. The pictures are simple but the feelings are complex. Their writing is economical and highly efficient at the same time.

I would really like to encourage you to discover these great writers.

Since I am not sure if I finish my German book/books for R.I.P. I count this as Peril The Third.

Celle qui n’était plus amazon.fr