She Who Was No More, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

This year I promised myself a read through of the entire Pushkin Vertigo series, starting out with SHE WHO WAS NO MORE by Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud (aka Thomas Narcejac), originally published in 1952. Collaborating as they did on mainly police stories I found the idea that Boilea was responsible for the plot and Narcejac the atmosphere and characters particularly intriguing. Both of which aspects really delivered in this novel - the story of an unfaithful husband, his ambitious doctor lover Lucienne, and his passive, stay at home wife Mireille. Lucience and Fernard Ravinel conspire to, and ultimately drown Mireille in the bath, transporting her body a long distance back to the Ravinel home by car to leave it to be discovered in a way that would indicate accidental death.

Only the body, carefully laid out by Ravinel, disappears before any such discovery can be made, and sightings of his dead wife (his lover is a doctor after all - surely she can recognise death when she sees it) start to reveal themselves, leaving Ravinel unraveling - his plot and his sanity.

Atmospheric, restrained and deeply dark noir, SHE WHO WAS NO MORE was utterly compelling reading. Carefully plotted there's little that can be said about that aspect without giving away a lot (and to be honest, astute readers may pick up on a series of clues along the way), but more's to the point with this book, it's the unraveling of Ravinel that's the most fascinating aspect. That and the wonderful combination of dark, rundown, almost seedy locations, the contrasts between foggy landscapes and thinking, and the almost visual aspects of the characterisations. You can clearly see expressions, thoughts and confusion on faces. You can feel the rooms they move through, the places they are in, the air that they are breathing. It's utterly mesmerising and you can see why there are multiple movies made of this story, and why the earlier of those (The Devils) is said to have inspired Psycho.

Another one of those reading quests that I wish I could devote more time to - the second book on my pile from the same series is I WAS JACK MORTIMER by Alexander Lernet-Holenia. It's only going to need to be half as good to make me very pleased with this decision and desperate to find the time to read more from their fabulous set of books.

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A murdered spouse returns from the dead in this classic thriller.

Every Saturday evening, travelling salesman Ferdinand Ravinel returns to his wife, Mireille, who waits patiently for him at home. But Ferdinand has another lover, Lucienne, an ambitious doctor, and together the adulterers have devised a murderous plan.

Drugging Mireille, the pair drown her in a bathtub, but in the morning, before the "accidental" death can be discovered, the corpse is gone-so begins the unraveling of Ferdinand's plot, and his sanity...

This classic of French noir fiction was adapted for the screen by Henri-Georges Clouzot as Les Diaboliques (The Devils), starring Simone Signoret and VĂ©ra Clouzot, the film which in turn inspired Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. A second movie version, Diabolique, followed in 1996, starring Sharon Stone.

Review She Who Was No More, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
Karen Chisholm
Friday, November 5, 2021

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