Killing Spree continues today with a guest post from Anne Williams. Here she talks about her love for the Serge Morel series written by Anna Jaquiery. I’ve read both of these books and have to say I agree with Anne, they really are excellent crime novels.
When Janet invited me to write something for her Killing Spree feature, I thought it might be good to talk about a series I’m enjoying. I’m not much of a crime fiction reader really – the Scandi crime sensation totally passed me by, and I do tend to lose interest when I take on a series. The only books I’ve stuck with are the MJ Arlidge books, Nicci French’s Frieda Klein series and the Roy Grace books from Peter James – that’s until I came across the quite wonderful writing of Anna Jaquiery.
There have been two books so far. the first being The Lying-Down Room, published in paperback by Pan in April 2015, but available in hardback and for Kindle a year earlier.
The crime itself was almost incidental to this gripping story, although highly original and well worked through. What really made the book stand out for me was the characterisation, and the extraordinarily vivid depiction of the French settings through a stifling summer. The central figure of Commandant Serge Morel is quite mesmerising, his professional and public life set against his solitary private life, his obsession with a former lover, sharing a house with his difficult and ailing father, involved in a relationship with a married woman. He unwinds by making origami birds and animals – the design and building of an owl sustain him through the most testing parts of the investigation.
I also loved his team: the feisty Lila, who has a forensic mind for detail but a more troubled personal life, is the perfect foil for Morel, and every other character (including his obnoxious superior Perrin and the sleazy pathologist Richard Martin) is equally well drawn.
This wasn’t an edge of your seat thriller – its beauty was in the way the characters unfolded. The setting and atmosphere were wonderful – you sweat along with Morel as he sits in the Paris traffic in his cherry red Volvo without air conditioning, wait with him in his car as he stalks his ex-lover Mathilde, feel the awkwardness in his relationship with his father, walk with him and Lila as they enter the unfriendly bar in rural Brittany and feel the rough edges being removed by the cheap red wine.
Anna Jaquiery writes quite superbly – this might be crime writing, but it’s also up there with the very best of literary fiction – and the world she creates totally absorbed me. When the publishers described it as “an evocative, gripping crime novel with an aching heart” they were absolutely spot on.
The second book, Death In The Rainy Season (published in hardback and for Kindle in April 2015, paperback to follow in April 2016) was quite a surprise. We’re not back in France this time, but in Cambodia – equally wonderfully brought to life and a perfect backdrop for another look at Serge Morel. It was quite fascinating to see him separated from his support network, seeking reconnection with his family, and working with the Cambodian police where very different political considerations come into play.
I loved this book’s sense of place, but again equally loved the characterisation – I enjoyed the links with what was going on in France, and was so glad that Lila continued to feature because I find her almost as fascinating as Morel himself (almost… but not quite). Morel himself is as mesmerising as ever, but there is a wonderful supporting cast too – a cast of complex and multi-layered characters we get to know intimately as Morel digs beneath the surface to resolve the mystery. The whole book is perfectly paced – totally impossible to put down – and the writing is quite beautiful.
I have absolutely no patience, and although it’s far too early to share plans for publication of the third book in the series, I was quite delighted when Anna agreed to tell me a little about it:
“In the third book, Commandant Serge Morel takes on an investigation into two deaths on a housing estate, in a troubled suburb north of Paris. Villeneuve is only a short commute from the French capital, but it’s another world. Morel is outside of his comfort zone, and increasingly so as riots break out on the estate following news of the two deaths.
Meanwhile, at home, Morel can no longer ignore the fact that his father’s health is deteriorating and that he needs help.
I wanted to write about what it means to be a North African migrant in France, and to grow up in a place like Villeneuve, where people have to contend with high crime rates, a lack of jobs, and a sense of alienation. The main character in my book, aside from Morel, is a young girl of Algerian descent. It was challenging writing from her perspective, but also one of the most exciting aspects of writing this book.”
Thanks to Anna, and I can’t wait – do try this excellent series if you haven’t already discovered it…
You can see more of Anne’s reviews over at her blog Being Anne.