Review - AFTER THE CRASH, Michel Bussi
AFTER THE CRASH opens with private eye Credule Grand-Duc preparing to take his own life after spending nearly eighteen years failing to discover the truth behind the miracle of the baby who survived a plane crash. Preparing his papers for handover, and setting the scene for his dramatic final act, he contemplates once more the front page from the local newspaper the day that the crash happened. And suddenly realises he finally knows the answer.
Occurring at a time well before the advent of DNA testing, any chance of establishing the parentage of the baby at the time was limited to potential physical evidence - of which the type of clothes she was wearing, the lack or existence of jewellery and the location where she was found are the only possible pointers that the court, and initially Grand-Duc have to work with. The two families have had to resort to court action to settle their claims for the baby girl, one of two on the list of passengers on that ill-fated plane. The hard-fought court case eventually hangs on the slightest of evidence, and enough doubt to lead the court to decide in favour of one family. Accepting the decision, but quietly hiring Grand-Duc on a yearly retainer up until the girl turns 18, the other family clings to the idea that the baby may still prove to be their granddaughter, hence the dilemma that he finds himself in at the eleventh hour.
This is such an intriguing, and utterly believable story told in multiple narratives, switching from the baby girl's brother Mark, and voice of Grand-Duc via his case notes. Along the way there are telling observations around the events of the crash and the aftermath. The fickle attention span of the media, the nature of familial love and connection, and the love of a brother and sister which always seems to have another aspect to it. It's also not a single-threaded story, there are plenty of complications in both of these families, and each set of grandparents are left with one living grandchild into the bargain as well as their own complicated and realistic personal stories. In both these cases the families are always part of the focus, frequently part of the problem, or struggling with many unexpected complications.
Bussi is a master at the art of dropping clues into the narrative that don't become clear until much later, and of frequently leading the reader into a solution which raises more and more questions. Using the case notes of Grand-Duc as the guiding narrative for much of the action also brings in the potential of a highly unreliable narrator, especially as both he, Mark and the second possible sibling seem to be rushing to precipitate a resolution against each other. Of course you could be forgiven for wondering why it is that Mark doesn't simply flick straight to the end of Grand-Duc's notes, but that realisation might only happen with the benefit of hindsight. The quest in this case constantly seems more important than the resolution in the end. Particularly as it becomes clear that the matriarchs of both families have known the truth for much longer than anybody could possibly realise.
The pacing of this thriller is particularly interesting, somehow achieving massive leaps forward in what otherwise feels rather languid, almost rhythmic style. Even for those readers that pick many of the twists and turns coming there is more than enough unknowns to keep most people guessing right until the end of AFTER THE CRASH. Certainly this reader was intrigued, and surprised by the resolution, having got to the point where it felt like just about everybody was stepping up for the position of chief unreliable narrator.
On the night of 22 December 1980, a plane crashes on the Franco-Swiss border and is engulfed in flames. 168 out of 169 passengers are killed instantly. The miraculous sole survivor is a three-month-old baby girl. Two families, one rich, the other poor, step forward to claim her, sparking an investigation that will last for almost two decades. Is she Lyse-Rose or Emilie?
Eighteen years later, having failed to discover the truth, private detective Credule Grand-Duc plans to take his own life, but not before placing an account of his investigation in the girl's hands. But, as he sits at his desk about to pull the trigger, he uncovers a secret that changes everything - then is killed before he can breathe a word of it to anyone...