Russell James has been named “the Godfather of Noir” by Ian Rankin. Russell writes crime novels - about criminals and victims, not the cozy procedural or whodunnit. He is the editor of Great British Fictional Detectives.
A slice of Gallic Gothic Noir in this 2013 translation of a novella originally published in 1999, set perhaps some ten years after the Second World War, when traumatised Yolande lives – or hides herself away – with her brother in a hovel of a house close to where a new motorway is being laid.
Her brother has a fatal illness and knows he has not long to live – not that Yolande cares; for years she has been stunned and agoraphobic as a result of what happened to her when war ended. Accused (rightly) of having consorted with German soldiers, her head was shaved and she was condemned to a living hell by the villagers. She should have moved away, but didn’t, and now never goes outside. Brother Bernard, meanwhile and almost by accident, becomes the local serial killer.
What’s different – and Gallic – about this tale is that he is neither built up as an evil super-hero nor judged by the author. He simply lives out his remaining days – an option not offered to his victims. How convenient to have all that construction taking place nearby, with immigrant workers to take the blame and deep holes in the ground to take the bodies.
The grim tale of this diabolical duo is entirely redeemed by the stylistic prose of the author who, as the French know, excels in this sort of tale.
(translated by Melanie Florence)