9781908643605 195x300THE DIS­AP­PEAR­ANCE OF ADELE BEDEAU, a dark and ele­gantly writ­ten lit­er­aray crime novel, is set in a small Alsa­t­ian town as drab as the book’s pro­tag­o­nist. Here Man­fred Bau­mann plods through his never-​varying daily rou­tine: lunch at the Restau­rant de la Cloche, bridge game with the boys on Thurs­days, a sur­rep­ti­tious visit to a brothel once a week, where he man­ages to accom­plish his mis­sion fully clothed while his ‘part­ner’ remains almost motionless.

Burnet’s atten­tion to detail and the pre­ci­sion with which he builds the char­ac­ter of Man­fred and his neme­sis, Detec­tive Gorski, make for a fas­ci­nat­ing and com­pelling read. Skill­fully, Bur­net pits them against each other, the unsta­ble loner Man­fred and the dogged Gorski, still tor­mented by the mur­der case he was unable to solve years ago.

The novel is also a cau­tion­ary tale about the per­ils of spend­ing too much time immersed in one’s own dark thoughts, and Baumann’s mind is clearly a dan­ger­ous place to dwell. Adrift in an ocean of beer, wine, and para­noia, he fan­cies the world is watch­ing. Should he devi­ate from even the small­est detail of his rou­tine – say, order­ing a dif­fer­ent dish on the day he habit­u­ally orders some­thing else – he frets that this will elicit gasps of amaze­ment from the restaurant’s other patrons and soon become town-​wide gos­sip. Com­i­cal at first, it becomes more sin­is­ter as we learn more about Baumann’s early life, his con­trol­ling and con­temp­tu­ous grand­fa­ther, and the dread­ful secret he car­ries with him.

Where the novel falls short is in the lack of atten­tion paid to its female char­ac­ters. Alhough Adele Bedeau’s dis­ap­pear­ance pro­vides the cat­a­lyst for all that fol­lows, in her brief appear­ance in the book, she’s a cipher, a sullen young woman who appar­ently dis­likes her job and has a secret boyfriend, but lit­tle else. Even Bau­mann, who obses­sively observes her, acknowl­edges he’s never given any thought to what her life is like or who she is. There’s also a brief and rather puz­zling love inter­est for Bau­mann that, given his per­son­al­ity, goes about where you’d expect it to, and a look at Gorski’s snob­bish and unpleas­ant wife who regrets her mar­riage to a lowly law enforce­ment officer.

Although once the mys­tery is solved, some read­ers may be tempted to skip the After­ward, don’t do this, for Bur­net isn’t done with us yet. He pro­vides an entire his­tory of the novel’s sup­posed author, one ‘Ray­mond Brunet” who had a life oddly sim­i­lar to Manfred’s.

Alto­gether a grip­ping lit­tle mys­tery, both styl­ish and macabre!

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