Three Days and a Life - Pierre Lemaitre
Three Days and a Life - Pierre Lemaitre ***
But for a few references to Playstations, Transformers and Spiderman, Pierre Lemaitre's Three Days and a Life could easily pass for one of George Simenon's timeless small-town murder thrillers. There's the same observations made about the nature of provincial communities in Lemaitre's novel, where simmering tensions and suspicions are stoked up in the small town of Beauval in 1999 when a 6 year old boy called Rémi Desmedt goes missing.
As is often the case with such situations in Simenon's small town crimes, the killer is already known and rather than the police investigation being the focus of the story, it becomes more about how the killer and the community respond to the events. On the one hand it brings out the underlying prejudices and suspicions that thrive in such places. Fingers of suspicion are pointed at 'outsiders' like shop owner Monsieur Kowalski, commonly known as Frankenstein, ("You only have to look at him") and at one of the local school teachers M. Guénot suspected of inappropriate touching of boys ("no smoke without fire"). Rumours start to quickly become treated as facts.
In reality, the person responsible for the disappearance of Rémi Desmedt is one of their own, a twelve year old boy called Antoine, who in a moment of fury and despair has struck out and accidentally killed the child and hidden the body in the woods. Three Days and a Life then becomes more of a suspense thriller, of how in the years that follow, Antoine lives with the horror of what he has done and the fear of the inevitable disclosure. One day the body will be found and one day he will have to pay for his mistake and for covering it up.
That time is clearly approaching some 12 years later in 2011, when a new development project is planned for the woods. Split in this way, Three Days and a Life essentially becomes a novel is about time and change, and about facing up to the past. It charts the changes in Beauval which is literally wiped off the map by the storms of winter 1999, and steps into a modern world that its inhabitants are mostly ill-equipped to deal with. Antoine too is tied to the past, unable to escape from his experience in his youth and face up to the future.
"What Antoine found exhausting was not the guilt, nor the fear of being caught, it was the waiting". As that observation reveals (as well as the Simenon-like case study of small town tensions), there's not a great deal that is fresh, new or insightful about either the situation or about how matters develop in the novel. Up until the carelessly orchestrated conclusion however the case is competently handled, and if Three Days and a Life tells us anything it's perhaps that small town attitudes and behaviours haven't changed that much, and neither has human nature in general.
hree Days and a Life by Pierre Lemaitre is published by MacLehose Press