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by Tanguy Viel and William Rodarmor
Other Press, March 2019
146 pages
ISBN: 1590519337

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

One of the more unusual works of crime fiction that I've read in a long while is also one of the shortest. At 146 pages, ARTICLE 353 chronicles the events leading to a death by drowning off the coast of northern France, in the small village of Finistère, near Brest. The story is largely, but not exclusively, told by Martial Kermeur, the man accused of causing the death. He is being questioned by the judge, who is responsible for deciding whether Kermeur's actions constituted murder. The story is related entirely after the fact, and largely in a narrative style, with a bare minimum of dialogue. At stake are the weighty philosophical issues: just what constitutes murder? and is causing the death of another man always punishable by law?These are ambitious topics to take on in so brief a work, yet the author manages to present an insightful account that will prompt his readers to consider these issues for themselves.

The tale begins with a reflective, and it must be said, passionless account offered by Kermeur himself. In the tranquil coast village in northern France a stranger has appeared. Antoine Lazenec is a real estate developer, and shows an interest in a local chateau and its surrounding land. It is soon apparent that he has grandiose plans to develop the site into a luxurious seaside resort.

The locals become caught up in the scheme, and before long everyone is clamouring to become part of the project. The mayor is not immune to the developer's charms, bringing with them the prospect of a new prosperity for the community as a whole. Martial Kermeur, a retired man and caretaker living modestly with his son in a small building on the Chateau estate, is equally seduced by the idea of living in a luxurious apartment in the promised complex.

Curiously, although work on the project soon stalls, the villagers remain confident: Lazenec will come through in the fullness of time. He remains in the village, and, they reason, surely that means he has no intention of swindling them.

Kermeur's own son develops a bond with the developer, who takes him to sporting events in his flash new Porsche, or fishing on his elegant boat. Meanwhile, Kermeur watches, and fears the worst. Years pass, and there is still little to show for everyone's patience.

But as Kermeur later tells the judge, one cannot always wait for natural justice; there comes a tipping point when – well, you'll just have to read the book.

ARTICLE 353 is a contemporary fable, told entirely in a narrative voice. But the voice is original: alternating points of view include Kermeur, the judge, and, at times, a seagull. There is irony in abundance, as when the retired Kermeur, a committed Socialist in his youth, decides to invest his entire life savings in a capitalist project. The author combines a familiar theme with convincing characters, and immerses them in a cautionary tale that makes for compelling reading. Translated by William Rodarmor (who does the author proud) the spare tone deftly conveys the author's naïve, yet incisive take on the world. It is very much a story for our times.

§ Since 2005 Jim Napier's reviews and interviews have appeared in several Canadian newspapers and on various crime fiction and literary websites, including his own award-winning review site, Deadly Diversions. His debut crime novel Legacy was published in the Spring of 2017, and the second in the series, Ridley's War, is scheduled for release in the Summer of 2019.

Reviewed by Jim Napier, February 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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