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Michel Bussi writes French detective novels, some of which have been translated into English. He is one of France’s bestselling writers of this genre. Black Water Lilies was first published in French in 2011 as Nympheas Noirs.
A widow who sees everything but whom no one sees narrates part of this book. She observes and stores the information she sees. As she watches the people in this small close knit community she manages to merge into the local landscape, to remain almost invisible. A dog Neptune is her only companion. We are told that the story will cover 13 days, and will begin and end with a murder.
In the village of Giverney, where the artist Claude Monet lived and painted his famous water lily pictures, a body is found face down in a stream. The strange thing is that cause of death is not necessarily as it seems. The body may have been moved. Why did it have a gash to the skull with the head under the water, and a wound to the heart? Did he drown or did he die from the blow to the head or the cut from the blade? The victim is local bigwig Jerome Morval, a well-known ophthalmologist. Inspector Laurenc Serenac and Inspector Sylvio Benavides are between them, investigating Morval’s death.
Jerome Morval had been born and grown up in the village and was married to a local girl Patrica Cheron and appears on the surface to have had a happy marriage. He came back to Giverney after he had finished his medical studies. Morval also had a roving eye and was not averse to flirting with a pretty woman. The two inspectors visit the widow showing her a postcard with the typed message “ELEVEN YEARS OLD. HAPPY BIRTHDAY” with some strange words underneath: “The crime of dreaming, I agree to its creation.” The postcard had been found in one of her husband’s pockets. Patricia has never seen the postcard before and has no idea what the words mean.
An envelope is delivered to the police station with 5 photographs in it. Jerome Morval is present in every one but none of the women in the photos are his wife. The only woman that is able to be identified is the local school teacher Stephanie Dupain. The detectives have to follow every possible lead from trying to ascertain whose boots belong to the footprint recovered from the crime scene and if a jealous lover or husband has committed the crime.
The story then becomes rather muddied. We find ourselves following a story-line of the village children; Fanette a young talented artist and her friends Camille, Vincent and Mary. I initially couldn’t understand where this part actually fitted into the story, but then, the penny dropped. This is a book you really have to think about. The past and the present become intertwined. The ending is shocking.
Reviewed by Christine Frayling
by Michel Bussi
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson