Review - The Accident on the A35, Graeme Macrae Burnet
The methodical but troubled Chief Inspector Georges Gorski visits the wife of a lawyer killed in a road accident, the accident on the A35. The case is unremarkable, the visit routine.
Mme Barthelme—alluring and apparently unmoved by the news—has a single question: where was her husband on the night of the accident? The answer might change nothing, but it could change everything. And Gorski sets a course for what can only be a painful truth.
But the dead man’s reticent son is also looking for answers. And his search will have far more devastating consequences.
Graeme Macrea Burnet’s first novel was presented as the translation of an obscure French crime novel written and published in the early 1980s by French author Raymond Brunet (note the anagram). The conceit of that novel – The Disappearance of Adéle Bedaeu – was deepened by the creation of a faux trailer for the film version of the book. After his Booker prize nominated His Bloody Project, Burnet returns to the world of Brunet. The Accident on the A35 is, according to the preface, the translation of an unpublished Brunet manuscript, released after his mother’s death.
Once again, the book centres around detective George Gorski and the small, seemingly dead end town of Saint Louis in which he lives. When the book opens, Gorski’s wife has left him and he is called to the scene of a car accident on a nearby road. The scene appears to be an open and shut case but there are some odd details and Gorski allows himself to be charmed by the dead man’s widow into investigating further. At the same time, the dead man’s son Raymond, after finding an address in his father’s drawer of a house in a nearby town, is also both investigating and trying to grow up.
The Accident on the A35 Is written in the mould of a classic French crime novel, it is intensely focussed on the characters of Gorski and Raymond and is less about the solution to the crime, if indeed there is one, than the impact that the events surrounding the death have on them. Gorski gets caught up with an unsolved crime in a nearby town and Lambert, the shonky detective running the case. Raymond finds himself shoplifting and becoming obsessed with a girl called Delph who lives in the block of apartments that he has been watching.
It is unclear why Burnet feels the need to play the meta-narrative games with his crime fiction except maybe to find an excuse to write novels in this style. And he does it well, crafting a crime novel that is more about the effects of a crime and its investigation and resolution than a crime itself. But this device does provide another, potentially deeper layer to the text and the end notes invite the reader to consider how autobiographical the fiction is in relation to the (also fictional) life of Raymond Brunet.