Title: Black Water Lillies
Author: Michel Bussi (Translated by Shaun Whiteside)
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Release Date: January 2011
My Rating: 8/10 Solid
Giverny. During the day, tourists flock to the former home of the famous artist Claude Monet and the gardens where he painted his Water Lilies. But when silence returns, there is a darker side to the peaceful French village.
This is the story of thirteen days that begin with one murder and end with another. Jérôme Morval, a man whose passion for art was matched only by his passion for women, has been found dead in the stream that runs through the gardens. In his pocket is a postcard of Monet’s Water Lilies with the words: Eleven years old. Happy Birthday.
Entangled in the mystery are three women: a young painting prodigy, the seductive schoolteacher and an old widow who watches over the village from a mill by the stream. All three of them share a secret. But what do they know about the discovery of Jérôme Morval’s corpse? And what is the connection to the mysterious, rumoured painting of Black Water Lilies?
I had no idea what to expect from this. I received this book as a gift, and knew nothing about the author. The synopsis sounded intriguing though, if not different from other thrillers I tend to gravitate towards. I decided to kick off coronavirus lockdown with something I had no preconceptions of, to avoid disappointment.
When I say this is different from other thrillers, I mean it’s not in the camp of ‘twisty psychological thriller by female author’. Black Water Lillies is much more classic in style (and is by a male author!), which I really appreciated. It made me realise just who bored I’ve become of the ‘psychological’ trope, and how much I appreciate a good detective-led who-done-it.
The book begins a little confusingly, and admittedly takes a 100 pages or so to get into. This is partly due to the way it’s written – it’s a French translation, and I always find translations to take a little getting used to. Different cultures have slightly different ways of describing and framing things, so adjustment is necessary. Once I’d adapted, however, I was hooked and sped through the rest of the book in a day or two.
The story is set over thirteen days, with a chapter per day. On the first day, a body is discovered in the river running through Giverny – the village famed for being the longtime home of Claude Monet. You know the one. No? Me neither. I know very little about art, and even less about impressionism, but while art is at the centre of this story, it doesn’t overwhelm it. Everything is written in layman’s terms, and is very easy to grasp. I even came away having learnt quite a bit! Don’t let it put you off.
Over the course of the thirteen days, the story unwinds cleverly and deceptively. The final chapters are enough to make anyone fall off their chair as everything unravels. Littered with red-herrings, untrustworthy characters and clever use of tense and language, I challenge anyone to truly guess the outcome.
I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a refreshing, exceptionally clever crime novel that will keep you guessing. I look forward to reading more of Michel Bussi’s work.