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The eyes of the dead

May 9, 2015 17 comments

Les yeux des morts by Elsa Marpeau (2010) The eyes of the dead. Not translated into English

 

Le sommeil ne vient jamais parce qu’il faut que Gabriel révèle la vérité, celle qui se dissimule derrière la fureur, la poudre et le sang. Les facultés sont parfois freinées par le manteau clinquant de la violence. Le rôle du technicien consiste à déshabiller la scène pour ne laisser plus que quelques lignes de peau nue. Celles que le criminel a laissées en posant son doigt sur le monde. Sleep never comes because Gabriel must unravel the truth, the one hidden behind fury, powder and blood. Faculties may be hindered by violence’s flashy cloak. The role of the technician consists in undressing the scene to leave only a few lines of naked skin. The lines the criminal left behind when he put his finger on the world.

 

Marpeau_mortI bought Elsa Marpeau’s book at Quai du Polar where she also participated to an interesting conference about violence done women and crime fiction. Her last book is about women who got their head shaved for fraternizing with the enemy after the Liberation in 1944/1945. You know me, first I groaned inwardly (“Not again. Another book about WWII in France”) but she made a fascinating point about how women’s bodies are always something to conquer in a war. She explained that, from a feminist point of view, this part of history picked her interest. She was convincing, I’d say and I’m ready to look at her last novel when it gets published in paperback.

Anyway, back to Les yeux des morts. It’s not available in English, sorry. It won the Prix Nouvel Obs-BibliObs of roman noir in 2011, so it might get translated.

We’re in Paris. Gabriel Ilinski works for the police as a crime scene investigation expert. He’s called with his colleagues to a crime scene in a building in near the Gare du Nord. An adolescent was killed; he was obviously a junkie and even if the police do their best, the case is soon filed. Gabriel can’t give up. He noticed that the young man had been at the ER at the Hôpital Lariboisière just before being killed. He smells something fishy there and starts hanging out at the ER. (The Hôpital Lariboisière is one of the most famous hospitals in Paris. It’s located in the 10th arrondissement and is well-known for its emergency services.) Gabriel is fascinated by the ER, it’s almost as if he fell under the spell of the place. The smells, the urgency, the fauna who pass through the doors, the homeless, the doctors and nurses who work there. Gabriel is also attracted to the doctor Louise Delaunay who runs the place.

Gabriel can’t let go and even after his boss Nadja has abandoned the case, he decides to keep working on it. Is there a best way to investigate the workings of the ER than to be admitted as a patient? That’s what Gabriel decides to do…

And that’s all I’ll say about the plot.

Being in Gabriel’s head is not like being in a classic PI or police officer’s head. His obsessive tendencies make you doubt his sanity. He’s a strange man obsessed with the cases he works on. He’s a solitary man. He’s not married, doesn’t have a steady girlfriend and his social life seems limited to his friendship with his boss and former lover Nadja. His home is full of pictures from the crime scenes. What’s his real motivation behind digging out the truth? He has obviously not reached the level of detachment needed to keep your sanity in that line of work. He’s always confronted to violence and his not impermeable to it.

Elsa Marpeau wrote a very unusual crime fiction novel. The setting, the characters, the plot are unusual and utterly plausible. I couldn’t put it down. She writes very well with precise images and there’s a sense of urgency coming out of the pages that suits the ER well. I felt I was in the hospital with Gabriel, I could imagine the place and I think the writer spend some time there to feel the atmosphere.

I hope it gets translated soon.

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