Best selling French novelist debuts in US

Photo courtesy of Michel Bussi

A really great suspense thriller/murder mystery grabs the reader from the first page and does not let go. “After the Crash,” the first novel to be translated into English by the bestselling French novelist Michel Bussi, hits the ground running and does not stop until the last line of the story. Starting with a moment of high drama, and continuing with unexpected twists and turns, the novel does not disappoint.

The opening action takes the reader through the moments before the 1980 crash of Airbus 5403 as it dives into the mountainside of the Swiss Alps. Of the 169 passengers, only one survives, a three-month-old baby girl. The problem: there were two identical babies on board, and no one knows which one survived.

Set in 1998 France, two sets of grandparents, the underprivileged Vitrals and the affluent De Carvilles, battle over the unidentifiable infant, each convinced that the child belongs to them.  The pursuant custody case awards the child, Lylie, to the Vitrals. Undeterred, the De Carvilles hire private detective, Credule Grand-Duc, to solve the mystery of the “true” identity of little Lylie. The only condition: he has until her 18th birthday to do it.

What simply begins as a case of an unidentified person quickly takes a turn toward a more sinister narrative as an illicit romance is revealed, the dead begin piling up, and another interested party joins the race to solve the mystery.

The narrative alternates between the present of 1998 and the past 18 years, told through Private Detective Grand-Duc’s journal. Segmented as such, the novel is easy to put down, but readers will find it difficult to walk away from such an intriguing and entertaining story.

Bussi creates a complex character in the protagonist, Credule Grand-Duc. Given the assignment of his life, he devotes his entire life to the investigation. Through Grand-Duc’s journal, Bussi is able to manipulate the plot and seems to take much joy in doing so. The proverbial carrot is dangled so far ahead of the reader that there are only slight hints as to where he is headed.

Bussi pens a suspenseful narrative, but there were problems from the beginning. Purported as talented, intellectual and beautiful, everything the Vitrals are not, it is an anomaly why Lylie never attempts to discover her own identity. Even when circumstances warrant her dire need to know her lineage, she opts for deadly measures instead of requesting a simple DNA test which leads to another flaw in the narrative.

DNA paternity testing became available in the 1980s so why was a test not performed? Admittedly, novelists often use the oversights or questionable decisions of their characters to move a story forward, but in “After the Crash,” it is unclear if that oversight is intentional or a major faux pas.

Bussi also falls short with the characters of Lylie and her “brother” Marc Vitral. Between the incestuous feelings that Marc has toward Lylie and the obvious personal attributes that Lylie does not share with the entire family, Bussi intimates that Lylie will not be the daughter of the Vitrals. When Bussi could have made the reader want to root for Marc, he fails to gain the necessary empathy for Marc’s predicament.

Even with the obvious shortfalls, the novel is ultimately a suspense thriller/murder mystery, and there Bussi has made a remarkable debut into the American market.

Mystery aficionados will be disappointed to find that they cannot solve the mystery. The ultimate reveal did not occur until the final pages when Bussi provided a masterful solution that covered all aspects of the intricate plot.  “After the Crash” is a quick and satisfying read.