Sunday, 27 November 2016

She Who Was No More - Boileau-Narcejac

It's not unusual for writers to collaborate under a shared pseudonym - Ellery Queen, for example, or Nicci French. Less common, perhaps unique, is a collaboration in which the surnames are combined to make a brand name. That was the case for Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, both of whom were known writers before pooling their resources as Boileau-Narcejac. She Who Was No More was the first of twenty collaborative thrillers. They also wrote a boy detective series and authorised follow-on Arsene Lupin stories.

She Who Was No More became Henri-Georges Clouzot's classic film noir Les Diaboliques (1955) amd Hitchcock transformed D'entre les Morts (1954) into Vertigo (1958). In short, it's hard to imagine a pair who contributed more to the field of psychological thrillers - their deeply flawed characters, the carefully layered settings and atmosphere, and their killer narrative twists are all signatures of the genre - and yet they and their works are largely unknown. I would not have come upon them had it not been that the niche publishers Pushkin Vertigo (no prizes for guessing where the name came from) gave me a voucher for signing up to their emails.

The plot of She Who Was No More is so intricate that it's hard to describe without giving the game away. Basically the travelling salesman Ravinel and his mistress Lucienne conspire to murder Mrs Ravinel and head south with the insurance payout. It goes very wrong indeed, and the twists keep coming to the very end. Geoffrey Sainsbury's new translation retains the crisp dialogue and almost poetic descriptive passages. The words on the page work almost like music in counterpoint, making something beautiful and seductive out of a storyline that is basically sordid and venal. I loved it and am definitely keen to read more.

The best crime novel I have read this year.

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