Black Water Lilies – Michel Bussi – Audible Book Review by Pat V.
Michel Bussi may not be a household name in the English-speaking world yet but ever since the publication of his first detective novel, Code Lupin, in 2006 he has been one of France’s best selling writers of this genre. A winner of many literary prizes, he was awarded earlier this year, the prestigious Prix du talent Littérare Normand. Only two of his books are available so far in English (both available from Audible): After the Crash, a story about the sole survivor of an airline crash in the Jura Mountains, a three-month-old baby nicknamed “Dragonfly” by the tabloid press, whose identity becomes the subject of a decades-long mystery, and now Black Water Lilies.
First published in 2011 as Nymphéas Noirs, Black Water Lilies is set in Giverny, the village made famous by Claude Monet and where he painted his garden and, in particular, his water lilies. In the opening section we are told in a matter-of-fact tone by a first-person narrator that the story will cover 13 days, that it will begin and end with a murder and that the focus will be on three women: Fanette, an 11-year-old precocious painter attending the local school; Stéphanie, the beautiful 36-year-old schoolteacher and finally the principal narrator herself, an old lady in her 80s known to the reader only as “la sorcière” (the witch) who lives in the nearby Moulin des Chennevieres (now an attractive B&B – check it out on Tripadvisor!)
The first of the murders follows almost immediately when the battered body of a local dignitary, Jérôme Morval, is found in the stream which feeds directly into Monet’s lily pond. Enter two investigating inspectors, the sardonic Laurenç Sérénac and his partner Sylvio Bénavides (whose strange hobby is collecting old barbecues!) and we find ourselves transported to a French version of Midsomer Murders.
Given the location of the story it is inevitable that the plot will hinge on all things artistic: painters past and present and paintings, stolen, hidden or coveted. Sérénac, who has a special interest in art, seems the ideal man to lead the investigation but he is not helped by the myriad of clues he has to unravel: a mysterious birthday card, a strange boot-print and an identical murder that took place many years before. Like a spider watching from her web, the old “sorcière” observes the investigation with malicious interest, having told us earlier that she knows who committed the murder and the reason behind it.
Initially there seems to be an old fashioned feel about much of the book, more Agatha Christie than Michael Connelly, but things are not as they appear and the denouement is complex and clever. The author captures well the claustrophobia of the small town, the gossip and squinting windows, but the story is not helped by the reader., Joan Walker. While the tone and pace of her reading suit the cantankerous “sorcière”, they are less successful in the sections dealing with Stéphanie or Fanette, and the police inspectors, particularly Sérénac, sound peevish and bored throughout.
The conclusion gives a lot to think about but it has taken a long time to get there and the book could certainly have benefited from some judicious – and vigorous – editing and, yes, a different reader. The audiobook lasts 11h 51mins and is available from audible.co.uk