Monday, February 26, 2018

Book Review: The French Girl

By Jami Deise

Six friends/lovers in an isolated country farmhouse. A body. A French-speaking detective. It sounds like an Agatha Christie, but The French Girl is London writer Lexie Elliott’s debut novel. And while Elliott is no Christie, her ability to create character and atmosphere hint at promising things to come.

The French girl in question, Severine, has been missing for ten years, and the novel kicks off when her body is found, stuffed in a filled-in well at the French country home where Kate Channing, her boyfriend, her best friend, and others were staying when she disappeared. Severine had lived next door, coming over every day in her black bikini and sandals to use the pool. And now that her body has been found, she’s moved in with Kate, dangling those sandals and staring judgmentally while Kate tries to live her life. As Kate has just opened a legal headhunting firm, it’s not the best time to be embroiled in a murder investigation. Further complications ensue by the return of a lover and a friend: Kate’s ex, Seb, who dumped her right after the week in question has returned to London with his wife; his cousin Tom has returned without his now ex-fiancee. Tom had been with Kate’s best friend Lara during the week in question. Fellow lawyer Caro, who grew up with Seb and Tom, were also at the farmhouse; its owner, Theo, died in Iraq.

So who killed Severine? Her haunting of Kate immediately points the finger at her, and Elliott’s reserved writing style does not acquit the first-person protagonist, either. Kate has a chip on her shoulder; of her friends, she was the only one not raised in luxury, and the reasons behind her decision not to practice law are never explored. Still, she’s not unlikeable, and her struggles to get her business off the ground ring true.

The actions unfold much like a Christie novel—once the time of death is pinpointed, it’s obvious that the killer has to be one of the six friends. It would be easiest to blame it on Theo, unable to defend himself from the grave, but no one seems willing to actually do that. The sexual dynamics among Kate, Seb, his wife, Lara, Tom, and spoiled rich girl Caro also come into play. Did Severine sleep with any of the men, and could that be the motive for her death? The French detective, Modan, doesn’t have a mustache to twirl like Hercule Poirot (who was Belgian, not French, as he often pointed out), but he does have the famous detective’s penchant for always turning up and dropping minor French words into complex English sentences.

Christie invented the unreliable narrator, in her groundbreaking book The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. It’s not too far-fetched to think that Elliott may have imitated the famous author here, too. Without revealing too much, Elliott plays by the rules she established, and as such, her ending doesn’t provide the mixture of surprise and inevitability that a good murder mystery delivers. Still, the denouement definitely belongs in this cynical century, and not in Dame Agatha’s.

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

3 comments:

Janine said...

Great review. I'm intrigued now.

The Book Sage said...

I just finished it today. I liked it. I didn't love it, but I thought it was very good. 3.25/4

You won't believe this Mesothelioma Lawyers Port Arthur said...

Loved this novel consumed in four hours. Friends. Scary. This novel will pull you in. Because we all have had a friend like this one that has everything. But is still jealous. Avery good read.