Translated from French by Shaun Whiteside.
Spring is springing, and I’m craving walks in my favourite places. Although not allowed to drive to them, due to you know what. So instead let’s meander for a while in a place I’d love to visit (maybe someday) – Monet’s garden in Giverny.
But we’re not going for a simple stroll to admire the water lilies and take some stunning photographs. We’re going to solve the puzzle set in the prologue.
Three women lived in a village.
The third was the most intelligent, the second the most cunning, the third the most determined.
In your opinion, which one managed to escape?
The puzzle setter is an old woman, born and bred in Giverny, who wanders unnoticed about the place accompanied by her Alsatian, Neptune. She sees everything. Including the connection between the murder of womanising Jérôme Morval and the unsolved case of an 11-year old boy, one that the investigating police dismiss. Why does she choose to disclose it to the dead man’s wife and not the police? Now that would be telling and I’m not about to give anything away that could spoil one of the most ingenious twists in crime fiction I’ve ever read. (No wonder this novel has won countless awards.)
Back to the three women: the budding artist child, Fanette Morelle, who dreams of a career that will take her away from poverty; the femme-fatale schoolteacher Stéphanie Dupain, who dreams of escape from the doting husband she does not love, and the unnamed old lady, who wishes to escape a lifetime of regrets. Plenty of scope there for interesting psychological profiling and Bussi makes the most of it, throwing into the mix two contrasting investigators, Sérénac and Bénevides. The former, a gut instinct man, who unprofessionally falls in love with Stéphanie, the wife of the prime suspect, contrasting with his assistant who believes that the case can be resolved by spreadsheet. (Not quite as idiotic as it may sound).
Last but not least the setting, although not shown in its best light by the narrator, who resents the tourist influx into what ought to be a rural idyll. Bussi knows how to capitalise on Giverny’s geography, cultural value and persisting rumours of masterpieces hidden in attics, such as the eponymous Black Water Lilies. Which – after an admittedly slow start – mixes into a rather intoxicating palette.
I thank Emma and Marina Sofia for the prompt to read authors scheduled to appear at this year’s cancelled Quais du Polar literary festival. I bought this after Bussi’s appearance at EIBF in 2017, and, if this is an indicator of the quality of books I have in my humungous unread-but-bought-at-the -Edinburgh-Book-Festival-TBR, I’m in for a great summer’s reading. Because now that the 2020 EIBF has also been cancelled, this is the year to catch up.