Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
What is going on with the world? Scarcely has one missing person come crashing out of the undergrowth than they all start rolling out of the bushes. Last month Steve Mosby tolds us I Know Who Did It and now Michel Bussi is describing After the Crash.
If you look a little further than thrillers – both Mosby and Bussi have written thrillers, different though they are – then there are literary novels out there including Caryl Phillips's The Lost Child and Elena Ferrante's last novel in her Neapolitan quarter, The Story of the Lost Child. All of them are playing with different meanings of 'lost' or 'missing' and finding their solutions in different times and places.
Michel Bussi has been known in France for his crime novels for a long time, and the rest of the world has had him in translation for I-don't-know-how-long, but After the Crash is his first work available in English. In French it was called 'Un Avion Sans Elle', which I would translate as 'An aircraft without her'. Put the two together and you get the idea: in 1980 an aircraft returning from Turkey crashed in the mountains of France, with only a baby girl found among the wreckage. Her handicap is that is she is wearing nothing identifiable and there were two babies on board when the 'plane took off. Two sets of grieving grandparents are going to struggle for the child. One set is rich enough to pay a private detective to find out what happened, though the evidence is thin.
Step forward eighteen years and the baby girl is ready to start university. That is the time that the detective, who has been on a retainer all this while, is found with his head blown off and his body half-consumed in his cottage fireplace. And just after he has told his client that he knows who the child really is without revealing his evidence. If the girl had been part of one family she would have been Lyse-Rose, in the other family she was Emilie. In either family she would have had some peculiar relatives, such as a psychopathic sister in one case, or a brother with unusually close feelings in the other. No wonder the general tone of the book is paranoid. Get a little further into it and you start to discover that all that paranoia is justified because you will not be able to trust anyone. There are more bodies out there but when characters start digging up graves they find that they are empty. Someone has been back hiding their tracks.
If you think of a detective waiting a long time then you think of Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Pledge (first published in 1958, filmed in 2000 with Jack Nicholson), set in Switzerland rather than France, in which the detective's despairing wait is a further condemnation of the murderer's villainy. After the Crash does not rise to that moral level, since it has a final twist and revelation but the revelation allows a saccharine ending. If you want twisted millionaires, struggling burger van owners, cars parking out of sight, broken window catches, unidentifiable corpses, and journeys all across France, though, before that happy ending, then this is the thriller for you.