Book Review – The Accident on the A35 by Graeme Macrae Burnet

books, reviews

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Between the publication of Graeme Macrae Burnet’s first Georges Gorski novel and the second, he had become a Booker-shortlisted author. The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau didn’t get a great deal of attention when it was published. I’m not saying that the second book got loads but it certainly benefited from being the writer’s follow-up to His Bloody Project. I first read Adèle Bedeau last year and enjoyed it. When I stumbled across the audiobook of the sequel at the library, I decided it was time to get through book 2. There’s a third one on the way at some point, so at least it would leave me in a position to read that at some point.

The Accident on the A35 reunites us with the police chief of the sleepy town of Saint-Louis. Solicitor Bertrand Barthelme is found dead after driving into a tree on the road to Strasbourg. Due to the victim’s standing, Chief Inspector Georges Gorski decides to personally break the news to his family. He notices two things whilst informing Barthelme’s wife of the news. Firstly, she’s younger than he expected. Secondly, she doesn’t seem particularly devastated to find out about her husband’s fate. The only question that the widow has is where Barthelme was at the time of his death. As it turns out, he wasn’t where he said he would be. He wasn’t in the place that he claimed to be every week. Add that to the fact that he withdrew a large sum of money every week and there seems to be something of a mystery surrounding the recently departed Bertrand. A mystery that only deepens the more Gorski looks into the case. Just what was departed up to and what, if anything, is the link between the murder of a woman in Strasbourg?

Just like its predecessor, The Accident on the A35 is more than just a crime novel. It works on so many levels. We have the general mechanics of a police investigation where Gorski has to collaborate with his fancy Strasbourg counterpart. The chief inspector feels inferior to the big-time cop and is desperate to impress him with his investigative skills. Is this desperation driving Georges to see links mysteries where there are none? One of the major themes of this book is the difference between desire and proof. As Gorski investigates Bathelme’s death, we have to question whether he actually believes there is a connection with the dead woman or just wants there to be. Georges is in a bit of a strange place both professionally and personally, so this case becomes the distraction he needs. His wife has moved out of his house with their daughter which leaves Gorski spends his nights drinking alone. Maybe the possibility of solving a big case in the city is just what he needs. So much so that he’ll make links between two unconnected cases.

It’s not just the chief inspector making these types of assumptions though. In the wake of his father’s death, Raymond finds himself investigating his father’s secrets. After finding a note in his dad’s desk, the teenager decides to find out what it means. This leads him down a path that forces him to do things that he normally wouldn’t. The more he puts into his sleuthing, the less stable Raymond becomes. As the novel progresses, he becomes more paranoid that he is being watched and that people will read into his strange behaviour. This book touches on an interesting facet of masculinity. Raymond goes through life as though he is the main character and becomes frustrated whenever he realises that he might not be. He assumes everyone is paying attention to him and his paranoia really does feel misplaced most of the time. He gets upset that his best friend and girlfriend talk to each other without him. It’s a classic case of narcissism but Raymond is also very uncomfortable with the idea of being noticed. He’s another fascinating creation from Graeme Macrae Burnet.

Like the first book in this trilogy, The Accident on the A35 isn’t a crime thriller as contemporary readers are used to. It feels much more like a classic crime novel. The police investigation isn’t exciting. There are no near-death experiences or dangerous situations. It’s all a bit tame. We spend most of our time in smoke-filled drinking establishments. What we have is a character study of two men undergoing emotional turmoil. It’s intelligent and exciting writing. Graeme Macrae Burnet is one of my favourite writers and this is just another example of what makes him such a delight. As ever, it’s not just as simple as reading a crime novel. As with The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau, he takes on the role of a translator for the works of French writer Raymond Brunet. Brunet killed himself after publishing the previous book and left word that the follow-up would only be released after his mother’s death. I love the way that Burnet plays with reality in his books. It adds an extra dimension without taking away from the main story. I can’t wait to see what Gorski gets up to next.

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