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by Bernard Minier and Alison Anderson, trans.
Minotaur, October 2015
470 pages
ISBN: 1250045541

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The title of THE CIRCLE, Minier's second in the detective Martin Servaz series, could just as easily refer to the structure of the book as to the secretive group of ten that goes by that name. The book has a central core around which the plot swirls as Minier takes us from one location and one time period to another in relatively short chapters. New story lines and characters are introduced throughout the book, filling gaps in the circle, until the end when the circle seems nearly complete. This structure is intellectually engaging, providing the reader with clues as to what exists in that central core, but it is disruptive to any sense of narrative suspense. There are moments when Minier draws the reader deeply into the story, but with the focus constantly changing, he spits the reader back out into an apparently unrelated place on the circle with regularity. This makes it easy to set down this very long book and not so compelling to pick it back up.

The long book, set in the isolated environment of an academic town, with an unlikeable but charismatic classics professor and a secretive group of students, invites comparisons with Donna Tartt's THE SECRET HISTORY. In fact, having read that earlier book, I found myself thrown off by expecting plot developments and connections that didn't materialize. In spite of Minier's solid writing, his skill is overshadowed by Tartt's. If you haven't read her book yet, reading these two as companion pieces might be an interesting exercise

In THE CIRCLE, Servaz is brought into an investigation by his ex-lover Marianne, whom he has not seen for decades. Her son has been arrested at the site of a gruesome murder of a teacher at the school that both Servaz and Marianne attended and that both of their children now attend. Servaz lost his best school friend when he stole Marianne from Servaz, and now that friend is a professor at the school. Here's another circle, the circle of friends from the past, once broken and now seeming to reform. Servaz does not believe that Marianne's son, Hugo, committed the murder, and the detective spends the rest of the book trying to prove his innocence.

At the same time, Julian Hirtmann, the serial killer who shares a love of Mahler's music with Servaz, has escaped from the hospital for the criminally insane where he had been committed, and there are clues that he is in the area and was involved in the murder. It appears that Hirtmann is sending Servaz chilling messages, threatening him and those close to him. While Servaz investigates the murder in the greater Toulouse area, his daughter and her boyfriend attempt to uncover what is going on within the confines of the school in Marsac. Mixed in with these alternating sections of the book are chapters told from Hirtmann's perspective, others told from the perspective of a woman, unnamed until the end, being held in captivity, and additional chapters detailing another detective's attempts to help Servaz from afar. In the end, the circle comes together and there is a fairly satisfying resolution, as well as the opening for the next in the series.

Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, November 2015

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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