The eyes of the dead

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.

  1. May 9, 2015 at 9:07 am

    That sounds very interesting – despite the reservations you expressed at the subject matter initially. I met Elsa Marpeau at Quais du Polar 2 years ago and bought her book ‘L’Expatriee’ and had a nice chat with her about expat lifestyles and bubbles. She is a very talented writer and I hope she gets translated soon.


    • May 9, 2015 at 6:37 pm

      I’m curious about L’expatriée too. It would be nice to read after the recent one you and Guy blogged about. (I don’t remember the title, the one about the American woman who’s an expat in Switzerland)

      Et ils oublieront la colère is the title about the last one that digs into the past of shaved women.


  2. May 9, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    I hope it’s translated too. Sounds like something I’d enjoy. Have you seen Woman in Berlin?


    • May 9, 2015 at 6:33 pm

      I think you’d like it. No, I haven’t seen Woman in Berlin. Why?


  3. May 9, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    This sounds like a good book for Soho Crime publishers to pick up. After all can there ever be enough crime fiction that gives a real sense of place, compelling characters and are well-written?


    • May 9, 2015 at 6:30 pm

      It’s good crime fiction, compelling, well-written, original.

      I’ve asked Folio on Twitter if there’s a project to translate her into English. They said they’ll check. So maybe we’ll hear good news.


  4. May 9, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    Sounds very interesting. There’s something very compelling and creepy about the opening quote in your billet; I was hooked from the get-go. I hope it gets picked up for translation, too.


    • May 9, 2015 at 7:25 pm

      I was totally hooked by the story and the style. Let’s cross our fingers and hope someone will decide to translate her.


  5. May 9, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    You picked the right quote to get me labeling the book as a priority TBR. I liked that there’s good writing involved in unraveling a criminal act. I haven’t heard of the writer but I’ve seen her books in bookstores here. About the shaving of women’s heads, I didn’t know it was practiced post-libération. I remember seeing pictures of the public shavings of women in Nazi Germany but I wouldn’t have expected this to happen in France after the war. Will you be reading more by her?


    • May 10, 2015 at 5:12 pm

      I’ll be happy to read your review about this one.
      Yes, I’ll read more by her. (When I allow myself to buy books again…)


  6. May 12, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    I’m pretty sure I’d like this and would also be interested in her latest. It does ound interesting as well. Thos ER in Paris are dreadful. I had to go with someone once. Horrible. Not like in US TV series.


    • May 12, 2015 at 9:39 pm

      I think she’s a writter worth following.

      Yes, ER are terrible because they attract all the misery of the streets. (she describes very well how homeless people try to stay as long as they can) Sure, it doesn’t look like what you see in American TV series, but it’s free.


  7. May 26, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    It certainly sounds worth translating, so hopefully. It sounds very good in fact, particularly the fact you felt able to say so little about it.

    I suspect ER in the US doesn’t look much like the ER in ER either. I’ve been to emergency rooms in the UK, Italy and in Grand Cayman and they’re never particularly happy places.


    • May 26, 2015 at 10:08 pm

      It’s unusual.

      I contacted Folio on Twitter and they say there’s no project to translate her books into English. Sorry.
      So I sent a message to Gallic Books. It seems to be something they’d publish.
      Perhaps there’s a chance for her if other bloggers contact Gallic Books too?

      Poor of you, visiting so many ERs.

      I don’t think they’re happy places either. Perhaps the ER at Lariboisière is bleaker than the one at the Hôpital Américain in Neuilly. Lariboisière is in the 10th arrondissement, near Barbès, Pigalle and the Hôpital Américain is located in the Parisian Kensington.


  8. N@ncy
    May 30, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Trying to read some of the authors you mentioned in your reviews. Skylark must wait because I’m immersing myself in French during the coming months. Elsa Marpeau will be the next challenge ” Et Ils Oublieront’ La Colère”. I bought theb ook before I read this review of ‘Les Yeux des morts” . Sounds very interesting…


    • June 1, 2015 at 10:39 pm

      Let me know what you thought about it.
      Skylark is incredible.


  9. N@ncy
    June 1, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    Time to start Skylark.
    Unimpressed by E. Marpeau.
    Review on my blog.


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