This staid yet engrossing thriller begins with a tragic automobile accident. A dark green Mercedes salon departs the southbound carriageway on the A35 – a trunk road running between Strasbourg and Saint-Louis – careens down a slope and makes fatal contact with a tree standing on the edge of a copse. The driver of the car, a Bertrand Barthelme, of 14 Rue des Bois, Saint-Louis is killed on the spot. The officer assigned to investigate the case is Georges Gorski of the Saint-Louis police force. A preliminary fact checks reveals that Bertrand Barthelme is a genteel, well-heeled partner in the law firm of Barthelme & Corbeil and one of the most respectable personas of the non-decrepit province of Saint-Louis. What otherwise seemed like an unfortunate but perfectly run-of-the-mill car collision takes a murky turn when Lucette Bathelme reveals to Gorski the fact that her husband had no business driving down the A35 on a Tuesday night since Tuesdays were reserved for dinner with his business associates forming part of an elite ‘club’. Discrete enquiries with the so-called business partners reveals that neither was there any club nor were the sociable dinners. Add to the confounding mix the weird behavior of Barthelme’s only son Raymond and an arguable crime of passion that snuffs out the life of a lady harbouring a ‘shady’ reputation, Gorski has more than just a headache to nurse.
The writing of Graeme Macrae Burnet has unmistakable traces of his idol Georges Simenon. In fact, Inspector Gorski is an eclectic mix of Simenon’s Inspector Jules Maigret and Ian Rankin’s John Rebus. A tumultuous marriage, an inveterate devotion to the lure of alcohol and a wall of resistance from peers who are oblivious to his achievements and obstinate to requests. What makes “The Accident” an outlier is the absolute lack of frenzy. Although a thriller in genre, it is thriller by genre alone! The pace is leisurely, the plot laid back and the convergence to the climax, languid. A veritable anathema to either a Robert Ludlum or a Tom Clancy, but no less enthralling, “The Accident” is testimony to the literary prowess of its creator. The narrative is smooth, easy, pleasing on the eye and refreshingly devoid of verbiage, bombast and complexity. The tug and pull of contradicting human emotions is captured in a fashion that is not only natural, but clinical. Gorski is impervious to reproach and revile, unaffected by acclaim and appreciation, and neutral to pleasure and pain. Going about his work with neither expectation not enthusiasm, Gorsky is self-deprecating, cautious and conservative in both approach and outlook.
The character of Gorski is immaculately captured by Burnet in this riveting passage: “Gorski relaxed a little. He would, in truth have been more comfortable in Le Pot, where he could order as many beers as he liked without Yves raising an eyebrow, and where he was not obliged to sit at the window in plain sight of passers-by.” Le Pot is the run down drinking establishment of Saint-Louis and Yves, its loyal bartender. Gorski prefers to remain anonymous, inconspicuous and even to a certain extent, invisible. Even while conducting investigations he prefers an approach that is bereft of rambunctiousness, ruckus and reverberations. Low profile to the extent of being docile, Gorski relies on a combination of logic and intellect to hone down on his conclusions.
“The Accident on A35” however will, and should not remain muted in the reception it receives from avid bibliophiles. So shouldn’t Inspector Gorski!