I first encountered Bernard Minier when I read his previous novel, The Frozen Dead. I thought then that he was surely France's answer to Nordic Noir, and his latest offering has confirmed this. His setting, the imaginary small town of Marsac in the French Pyrenees, is so well described that you feel you have lived there, just as you feel you know Wallander's Ystad. Indeed, his protagonist, Commandant Servaz, has a great deal in common with Wallander – a divorced loner with a melacholy cast of mind. He also has a passion for music – in his case that of Gustav Mahler.
Marsac is a university town, nicknamed 'the Cambridge of the Southwest'. Servaz's daughter, Margot. is a student at the university. One of the lecturers has been found dead in her bath. The local police have already arrested someone, and Servaz has received a frantic telephone call from Marianne, who was his lover sixteen years ago. The young man arrested is her son, Hugo. She wants him to become involved in the case and obviously to prove Hugo's innocence. He is deeply reluctant to become involved, not wishing to open old wounds.
Nevertheless he sets off to the crime scene with his assistant, Esperandieu and arrives in the middle of a violent thunderstorm and a power cut. Minier has a great gift for describing extreme weather conditions. As they enter the house through the garden they pass the swimming pool, in which a collection of dolls is floating. Servaz is warned by the local policeman that the murder is horrific. The victim, Claire Diemar, had been tightly bound with a long length of rope, and placed in the bottom of the bath. The perpetrator had then turned the cold tap on and left her to drown. A small torch had been placed in her mouth.
This is just the start of a labyrinthine plot in which old wounds are indeed opened and memories revived of a tragic accident some years ago in which a bus carrying a school party on an excursion had fallen into a lake, drowning almost all its passengers. Water runs through the story like a sinister leitmotiv. Crime fiction doesn't come more powerful than this.