Monday, August 04, 2008

Murder in Memoriam: Didier Daeninckx

It’s October 1961, and the Algerians are rebelling against the French, and one such demonstration is in progress in Paris. But that shouldn’t really matter to the Latin and History teacher, Roger Thiraud. His wife is pregnant, a situation that induces in him a passion for the history of childhood. Sure he has a guilty secret, but a love for horror movies, even in the 1960s, is hardly something that will attract the attention of the French government, or the Algerian rebels for that matter. As the demonstration gathers momentum, Roger stops just outside his home, and watches both fascinated and horrified by what was taking place in front of him. That is when a man armed with a gun walks up to Roger Thiraud and shoots him dead.

Twenty years later, Roger’s son Bernard Thiraud and his fiancée Claudine Chenet stop over at Toulouse for a couple of days en route to Morocco. In those two days, Bernard spends all his time rummaging through the archives at the town hall. As he wraps up his research on the second day and heads to the hotel and to Claudine, a man armed with a gun shoots Bernard Thiraud dead.

The first murder is brushed under the carpet of the demonstration, with Roger Thiraud being considered an accidental albeit unfortunate victim. Inspector Cadin in Toulouse investigates the second murder. And that is the crime fiction part of Murder in Memoriam.

The Algerian demonstrations of 1961 form the searing sub-plot. What happens when there is political unrest in the country? How does it impact the men in power, the men in authority and the common man? That’s the underbelly of Murder in Memoriam.

As a murder mystery, it is tempting to poke holes at some aspects of the investigation. Like how Muriel Thiraud, Roger’s wife, comes out of her twenty-year reverie and helps Inspector Cadin rather effortlessly. Like how Inspector Cadin almost misses as simple a trick as the killer taking an alternate, longer escape route from Toulouse to Paris. In the absence of the political sub-text, those slips would have mattered more. But not in Murder in Memoriam. The power with which Daeninckx lays bare the events behind events of 1960s France overpowers all other aspects of this book. And if that doesn’t satisfy you, the denouement should – as chilling as any I have come across in a long long time. And then there is the post-script.

I’d already been told to soft pedal it. At the Ministry they were drawing up a version more in keeping with the idea that the citizenry had of the guardians of public order.

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