This is a psychological novel exploring the brain of an amnesiac detective who loves the idea of him being equal to Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot
The first paragraph of the originally French novel Enquête sur la disparition d’Émilie Brunet (2013) shows sentences with lines drawn through them. Could this perhaps signify a part of the plot? Do we have to pay attention to what is written underneath or do we ignore it?
As we move on to the next paragraph, we are provided with a preliminary explanation: the main character of this first-person narrative is suffering from amnesia due to an accident. It is Achille Dunot, the former detective and best investigator of the French city of Vernet.
While Dunot remembers everything from his long-term memory, he cannot remember the days or weeks since his accident each morning as he awakens.
Because of his amnesia, Dunot needs to write down his investigation for fear of forgetting his previous investigations and interrogations. Every day starts with the reading of his recordings, in order to establish his conclusions so far. The sentences we see are his but since they appear new to Dunot every day, can he trust them? Especially since he agreed to share his writings with the main suspect Claude Brunet. Afraid of disclosing too much Dunot has erased sentences. Even the list of characters, before the first chapter, is written from his perspective, yet again the reader only gradually grasps what is going on.
We are made aware of the fact, that the detective has read every book by Agatha Christie and fancies himself to be of a great mind like Hercule Poirot. The references to the Agatha Christie crimes are numerous whilst the detective varies his theories according to the different plots in the Queen of Crime’s books.
The book sets out as a crime novel with Dunot, in line with Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, as the “detective, first and foremost a master analyst, specialist in the human soul.” The mystery is the disappearance of Claude Brunet’s 14 years younger wife Émilie and her lover Stéphane Roget. From the start, we are lead to believe that professor of cognitive science Claude Brunet killed them both and somehow disposed of their bodies.
Somewhere along the line, however, the book changes into a lecture on how the murderers in Agatha Christie’s novels behaved and were caught as well as on several other topics. Some of these topics relate to the mystery others are elaborate explanations nothing to do with the case at hand. Dunot notices the “seemingly superfluous paragraphs” and is, like us readers, overwhelmed by the apparently incoherent deliberations with as the only purpose to envision the greatness of his brain, equal to that of Hercule Poirot.
We as readers also struggle with the long explanations and argumentations. Furthermore, the mystery itself is almost cast aside as the game of words and phrases between our detective and the prime suspect is prevailing the search for the (murdered?) bodies of Émilie and her Stéphane. It even reaches the point where Dunot argues whether he is writing his first own crime novel and these daily reports are only fruits of his own imagination.
No wonder he personally ends up in a crisis and his world collapses. Will he find out what happened to Émilie? There are some clues, such as the fact that certain testimonials are literally identical to earlier statements. But are these clues enough to convict the main suspect? And what elaborate scheme is Brunet executing by involving Dunot into his game of cat-and-mouse?
I can only compliment the author Antoine Bello on his insights into the human brain and the works of Agatha Christie. But I found the fact that many a book of Agatha Christie was elaborately explained, the diverse plots almost literally causing Dunot to investigate accordingly, too much. It made the book thorough but lessened the pleasure of reading the novel because of the many diversions. As a lifelong fan of Agatha Christie, I am familiar with her plots and was dismayed to see various plots exhaustedly explained.
Moreover, the book leaves the crime perspective and is more a psychological novel in which two seemingly impaired brains try to influence the other. Do you like these psychological mind games and extensive digressions into the human brain, then you will enjoy this book. I found it difficult to like the book and to empathize with the detective Dunot who apparently revels in matching his “grey cells” with that of a brain expert rather than to dive into the crime mystery and discover the solution like his beloved Hercule Poirot.
About the Author
Antoine Bello is a French author, living in New York. He has written several novels, including his 19998 debut novel ‘The Missing Piece’ and the three-part literary work The Falsifiers (2007), The Pathfinders (2009), and The Showrunners (2015), which features the Icelander Sliv Dartunghuver.