By a Slow River

Philippe Claudel, Author, Hoyt Rogers, Translator , trans. from the French by Hoyt Rogers. Knopf $23 (194p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4280-7

Nimbly translated, French former screenwriter Claudel's little gem of a debut novel is, in essence, a whodunit. On a frigid morning in December 1917, the body of a 10-year-old girl is discovered, strangled, on the banks of the "slow" river that slices through a small, unnamed French village. The townsfolk are stunned by the murder, though they're curiously oblivious to the seemingly endless slaughter taking place on the nearby Western front. Told by Dadais, a former policeman with a sharp memory and (it gradually becomes apparent) a shadowy history of his own, the story is a re-creation of his dogged pursuit of the killer. Was it the town's haughty prosecutor, Pierre-Ange Destinat? Was it the Breton deserter who confesses under duress? Could it possibly have been Dadais himself? The answer, like everything else in the story, is far from tidy—aside from its construction, that is. Psychologically complex, elegantly written and tightly plotted, this is far from your average policier . (June 15)

Reviewed on: 03/20/2006
Release date: 06/01/2006
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