World Crime Atlas is my retirement project to read a crime novel set in every country in The Times Atlas of the World, concentrating on the sense of place created by the author.
Three Days and a Life, by Pierre Lemaitre, Translated by Frank Wynne.
Plot: Antoine, aged 12, lives in a provincial town. In the last days of the departing century, a series of events unfolds, starting with the violent death of his neighbour’s dog, that inextricably links the fate of Antoine and the neighbour’s six-year-old son.
When and Where: The novel is divided in three parts, set in 1999, 2011, and 2015. The town of Beauval is set in a “region of lush, dense woodland which moved to its own slow, ineluctable rhythms.”
Sense of Place: Beauval is one of those small towns where “nothing ever happens”, and where people conform out of their desire for respectability in the eyes of their fellow townspeople; and where anyone who breaks this rigid code is regarded with hostility, suspicion, or contempt. The woods that surround the town are the setting for a shocking event; the death of a child (the killer’s identity is immediately revealed; this is not a ‘whodunnit?’ crime novel.) The physical appearance of the town and the all encompassing woods are well drawn, but the book is really describing the mental landscape of a guilt-ridden, terrified killer. Within this, there are memorable scenes of a Christmas Eve midnight mass, and of the twin storms that devastate the town which (“the landscape was changing fast, too fast”) mirror and act as a metaphor for the killer’s state of mind.
This is a very accomplished psychological study of the consequences of a shocking crime, both on the culprit and on the wider community.