Bed of Nails – Antonin Varenne

We have a new leader of the ever swelling pack of defective detectives: Lieutenant Guérin. The police character at the center of this quite brilliant book is not the best detective; he’s the most defective. In brief, he’s nuts. Unfortunately, in the underbelly of Paris and its corrupt police force, that is no disadvantage.

It begins with an apparent suicide. Guérin and his young assistant Lambert are the Suicides department. It’s some kind of punishment for Guerin’s past actions against the solidarity of the thin blue line. But he cares little for the deep insult, and becomes engrossed in the role. He starts to see a connection between the suicides and goes on the hunt. Lambert recognizes that his slightly mad superior is also a superior detective, and dotes on his boss.

At the same time, a French American returns to Paris to find out about the apparent on stage suicide of his addict friend.

The two threads eventually come together, leading up to a high tension climax and a shocking finale.

Apart from Guerin, the American – John Nichols – is also a well drawn and interesting character. The subsidiary characters are well done, with just the required amount of attention to make them more than cardboard stand ins.

As well as the dark side of the Paris police force, we are given a taste of diplomatic corruption. The mix is deadly.

The writing is delicious. (Again, kudos to the translator: Sian Reynolds.) There are apparent flights of fancy, stray sentences and quirky ideas that all play a part in keeping the reader slightly off balance, but glued to the page. The plot and its twists are well up to scratch. Overall, it’s a razor sharp roller coaster ride; a breath of fresh air in the world of crime fiction.

This is a great read. It will stay with you well after you have finished reading it. Very highly recommended.