BENGALURU: A flight from Istanbul to Paris runs into rough weather and takes its final plunge near the France-Switzerland border, crashing into the cold night at Mont Terri. No survivors are discovered, at least not until someone stumbles upon a three-month-old girl.
Two sets of grandparents come forward. The industrialist family Carvilles and the Vitrals, who sell food from a van at their beach town, claim the ‘miracle child’ to be Lyse-Rose and Emilie respectively. Neither wants to back down and there’s little to go on to determine the identity of the sole survivor of the crash.
So Leonce and Mathilde de Carville and Pierre and Nicole Vitral get set to fight a legal battle for the child, their grief for the sons and daughters-in-law who perished in the crash seemingly forgotten. Finally, the discovery of an unfortunate lie of omission by Leonce about a bracelet that the couple had gifted Lyse-Rose swings the balance towards the Vitrals.
Enter Credule Grand-Duc, a private detective employed by the Carvilles who manages to gradually win over the Vitrals’ confidence too — Pierre and Nicole, and their grandchildren Marc and Emilie. It’s his journal that gives us the back story and his nearly 18 years of attempting to probe further and discover conclusively which family ‘Lylie’, as he refers to her, was born into.
Using the journal entries and following different characters right about the time of Lylie’s 18th birthday, French writer Michel Bussi, introduced to English readers this year by Sam Taylor, skilfully traverses through time, weaving a plot that picks up unexpected threads as it progresses.
While the author has mostly left the identity crisis from the protagonist’s point of view largely unexplored, the uncertainty that looms large years after the court judgement is almost tangible.
Especially heart-rending are what Marc, two years older than Emilie, and Malvina de Carville, Lyse-Rose’s elder sister who was six at the time of the crash, go through.
While Marc is ever devoted to Emilie, for that’s her official name now, in Malvina, the seed of love for Lyse-Rose has been cultivated into a burning obsession by her grandfather. The part where the two are thrown together after Lylie has disappeared, and they find that the ‘truth’ they seek is not too different though their motives might be.
As the journal moves closer to its end and the narrative to its climax, and we learn more about the relationship between Marc and Lylie, the boy — if you can call a 20-year-old that — is faced with bitter truths he hadn’t once imagined were possible. Has he bitten off more than he can choose, you wonder.
This book is fast-paced and goes on without hurtling into too many dull moments. Though hardly melodramatic, unexpectedness almost befriends the narrative, a combination that makes it impossible for the reader to put the book down.
How many more great crime fiction works are we missing out on because we don’t know the language?