Under the Channel by Gilles Pétel

Review published on December 23, 2016.

This is a really odd book. Its description implies that it’s going to be a crime novel. The body of a Scotsman is found on a Channel Tunnel train that has just arrived in France. The victim, John Burny, has been strangled. The case lands in the lap of Lieutenant Roland Desfeuileres of the French police, who sets about investigating. So far so run of the mill, no surprises here. But the reader quickly realises that this is not the usual crime thriller/police procedural.

The first part of the novel follows the victim, he’s a gay estate agent, a hedonist who lives his life to the full. He’s single, sleeps around, spends money like there’s no tomorrow. He regularly catches the train to Paris for a long weekend of excess. After his murder, the book changes tack and we are now following Lieutenant Roland Desfeuileres. He’s in something of a rut, with a marriage that is stale and increasingly loveless. Just before he’s handed the case of Burny’s murder, Roland tries to reignite the spark to his marriage with comic, albeit disastrous results.

This triggers something of a midlife crisis in the French detective and he walks out on his wife and travels to London, ostensibly to solve the murder of Burny. But he does no real investigating. Instead, he begins to walk in the dead man’s footsteps, increasingly trying to live his life and get inside the man’s head. He becomes obsessed with Burny, jealous of the lifestyle he had, and in effect decides to become him.

Under the Channel is best not considered a crime novel at all, but real the study of a man living a midlife crisis. On its own terms, Under the Channel is not a bad book at all, entertaining and thought provoking on philosophical level. It strains credibility on a number of occasions, but then I don’t think it was ever intended to be realistic as such. Some of the text, terms of phrase, etc., can be odd, but that might be down to the translation.

All in all, this is an OK book, it’s not brilliant or earth shattering, but it’s contemplative, quirky, and more than a little different.

James Pierson 3/3

Under the Channel by Gilles Pétel
Gallic Books 9781908313669 pbk May 2014

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