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San Francisco, 1995: Martin and Gabrielle fall in love on holiday. He is from France, and has just graduated, and thinks of becoming a policeman while dreaming of being a writer. She is a student at Berkeley. The affair ends in heartbreak for Martin.
2008: Martin has become a policeman in France, and is pursuing a deeply frustrating case, that of the brilliant art thief Archibald McLean. An operation to catch him stealing from the Musee d'Orsay ends in total humiliation for Martin, and he is desperate to redeem himself, but wait, that means following Archibald to San Francisco.
This rather soppily romantic crime thriller has plenty of tempting ingredients, not least the beautiful and interesting city settings, such as Paris and San Francisco, and more briefly, New York City. It didn't quite work for me though.
First of all, most of the characters never seemed three dimensional. Archibald (what an odd name for a major character) was the best - he is not really a bad guy as painted by Musso, after a tragedy as a young man, he has spent years in prison but is now quite successful at not being caught. However, he is a sick man, and feels he has a limited period of time to sort things out. We will learn what, why and how in due course. Compared to him, I was a bit bored by Martin and Gabrielle.
As for the glamorous settings, I felt that they were being used rather blatantly to make the story seem more interesting. Various locations and tourist hotspots in both cities were name dropped into the narrative. I'm not sure what the reader who doesn't know both cities would have made of it. I just felt disappointed repeatedly, being taken back to various places in San Francisco and then left a bit flat.
If you dislike supernatural/otherworldly intervention in the course of the story, steer clear of this one. Actually, though I normally prefer gritty realism, I rather liked the concept of the supernatural bit, I thought it gave interesting dramatic possibilities and enjoyed reading it. It was the supposedly more realistic details that bugged me and took me out of the story. Why would a couple with other places to go want to have sex in a parked car in the Tenderloin (a rather dodgy area of San Francisco?) I didn't get the sexy danger bit here. Also, while babies born at 24 weeks now still have quite a fight to make it, and run a high risk of developmental difficulties, medical technology has moved on a lot since 1975, and I'm not sure that a baby born then would have made it unaffected by her prematurity.
The writing style is rather clunky and full of clichés. As it is translated from French, it is hard to know entirely whether this is the writing or the translation, but I am not really convinced that the original French was much better than the English.
So, this didn't work for me. I notice one of his previous books has been made into a successful film, Afterwards, and I did think this might make a fun romantic comedy/crime caper.
This edition of the novel comes with an interview with the author at the back, something I'm always curious about even when I don't really like the book or plan to read anything else by the writer. Just call me nosy, but I think this is a nice touch.
I received a free copy of this book for review through the Amazon Vine programme, and it has previously appeared on www.amazon.co.uk
Originally published in France 2008
English translation by Anna Brown and Anna Aitken published by Gallic Books April 2011
RRP £7.99, Amazon £4.61