Thursday 19 October 2017 News Updated at 12:10 PM IST
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The dead-dog scent - Deccan Herald
The dead-dog scent
Chethana Dinesh
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It's late December 1999. In the small French provincial town of Beauval, 12-year-old Antoine is feeling lonely. For, his friends are lost to the new PlayStation obsession. He doesn't join them as his mother does not approve of such games. In his effort to kill time, and to impress Emilie, the pretty girl he has a crush on, he starts building a tree house in the woods. The only company he has in this secret mission of his is Ulysses, his neighbour's dog. And, occasionally, six-year-old Remi Desmedt, "who worshipped Antoine and trailed around after him whenever he was allowed."

Just three days before Christmas, Ulysses gets hit by a car. He badly needs a vet. However, instead of taking the injured dog to the vet, Monsieur Desmedt, the owner of the pet, shoots him at point-blank range, packs the body into a plastic sack, and gets on with his life like nothing's happened. This series of events takes place at a quick pace, with Antoine as a silent witness. It is too much for Antoine to handle. His pet companion is shot dead right in front of him. "His throat tight, a terrible heaviness weighing on his heart, he could not stop replaying the scene, the shotgun, Ulysses's head, his plaintive eyes..."

Unable to contain his sorrow, early next afternoon, he escapes to his tree house. And destroys it in an effort to vent out his anger and frustration. He misses Ulysses. As fate would have it, Remi shows up. The sight of Remi infuriates Antoine. After all, it was Remi's father who had shot Ulysses to death. In a fit of rage, he screams at the little boy, picks up a branch, and lashes out at the child. Remi collapses. That is when Antoine realises that Remi is dead, and that he has inadvertently murdered him.

Well! This is how Three Days And A Life begins. This murder, committed innocently, sets the tone for this latest book by French author Pierre Lemaitre, acclaimed for his crime novels including Alex, Irene and Blood Wedding. Though die-hard fans of his crime fiction pooh-pooh this book as very unlike his characteristic style, it has to be said to the author's credit that he keeps the readers engaged nonetheless, forcing them to thumb through the pages to know if Antoine will be caught.

We are soon led into the closed community of Beauval where Remi's sudden disappearance has caused a stir. People form themselves into groups and go in search of the little boy. There's utter chaos and commotion everywhere. Antoine is in a state of shock. And, gripped by a sense of dread that the murder will be traced to him. These feelings continue to haunt him for years on end, transforming themselves into an utter hatred for the place, and fear, too. After all, nobody knows the horrible secret he harbours.

Years later, Antoine is in Paris, pursuing medicine. He has a girlfriend, too. However, he is unable to shake off the traumatic memory of the murder he committed. He hates visiting his mom in his hometown for the fear of being brought to book for his crime that is, till date, not solved. As we traverse through the life of Antoine, we realise that the damage has been enormous.

His thoughts constantly hover around - "They would find the body. The investigation would be reopened. The police would re-question witnesses." He is simply not able to lead a normal life. Goes to show how a childhood mistake can cast its long shadow on an otherwise normal life.

As we leaf through the book, we secretly hope that Antoine is not caught. After all, the crime was committed unintentionally. Yet again, we are left feeling sorry for Remi's parents who need a closure. Such is the author's control over his craft that he manages to draw his readers into a world where there are no rights or wrongs.

The beauty of the book is that there's no 'whodunnit', there's no 'why and how it was done', but just plain 'it happened so...' And yet engrossing. Definitely not for crime thriller fans, but an excellent read nevertheless. A master storyteller that he is, Pierre Lemaitre throws a few surprise twists and turns towards the end, catching the reader offguard in a pleasant way.

There's one complaint though - editing demands a serious relook. Glaring grammatical errors, once every few paragraphs, are quite jarring.


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