When is it possible to say for sure that an author is one of your favourites? How many of their books do you need to have read before you can make that claim? Even after reading His Bloody Project, I was sure that Graeme Macrae Burnet would be in a position to earn that title. Then I read Case Study and it only confirmed how much I enjoy his writing. In order to get the full experience, I also bought copies of his other works but, as usual, it took me a while to get around to them. When I found the audiobook version of this book in my library’s catalogue, it seemed like it was the right time to do so. So, I listened to it during work with the hope that I could finally bestow the all-important title on the Scottish author.
Like most people, I was first introduced to Graeme Macrae Burnet when His Bloody Project was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2016. I absolutely loved it and thought it was the best example of a writer blending fact and fiction I’d ever read. At least until I read Case Study in 2021. It was hard to deny that I was becoming a huge fan of the writer, so it only felt right to go back to the beginning. The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau was his debut novel and you can see strong hints of where he was going as a writer. Not that his first book isn’t a good one but, inevitably, the writer has only improved with each novel. The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau is a mystery novel set in the small French town of Saint-Louis.
Situated on the border between France and Switzerland, Saint-Louis offers a fairly slow pace of life. If anything out of the ordinary happens, it becomes big news and everyone in town gets involved. When a young waitress goes missing, the investigation becomes the talk of Saint-Louis and everyone is left slightly on edge. Not least, Manfred Baumann a frequent patron of the restaurant where Adèle worked. Manfred is a loner who follows a simple routine. He is also hiding quite a few secrets from his past. Enough secrets to have him worried when the police question him about his connection to the waitress. Unfortunately, Detective Georges Gorski is haunted by the unsolved murder of a young woman from his past. He won’t let anything stop him from finding out what happened to Adèle.
What stands out most about The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau is the characterisation. Manfred is such an awful person and is so reminiscent of those men on the internet who rant about women not wanting to sleep with them. He works so well because he feels so realistic. This isn’t some over-the-top villain but a true-to-life figure. He’s also an unreliable figure. You are never sure what he is and isn’t being honest about. It doesn’t help that Manfred is paranoid and feels like he’s always being watched. Something that isn’t a great quality in a suspect. As a reader, you have to work just as hard as Gorski to work out if Manfred is guilty or not.
Speaking of Gorski, the interplay between the two men is wonderful. The dramatic tension in this novel could rival any of the greatest thrillers. The pair also have a few things in common and are haunted by their past. Something that we slowly learn as the novel progresses. I would say that the novel is a bit slow but it doesn’t feel like it drags. Instead, you have to wade through the noise to find the relevant details. You become absorbed in the investigation and the mystery of these two men. You also get caught up in the dark themes and consequences of the narrative. If you’re into deep probing character studies that are full of unlikable characters then this is for you.
I didn’t enjoy The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau nearly as much as the two previous Graeme Macrae Burnet novels that I’ve read. However, it’s still a great read and far superior to so many thrillers out there. This was his debut novel and you can see the tropes and writing style that will only get better in future novels. I continue to believe that he is one of the most exciting and original writers around and this novel only makes me more excited to read more.