Pierre Lemaitre, his farewell to the noir novel

The uppercase Serpent

by Pierre Lemaitre

Albin Michel, 338 p., € 20.90

Pierre Lemaitre is right. You should always be wary of well dressed old ladies, looking like retirees, surrounded by a lymphatic Dalmatian. Under her appearance of a wall pass, Mathilde is a formidable trigger with nerves of steel. A contract killer who always goes under the police radar and defeats her best sleuths. Who could suspect her? Misleading clues and nothing that connects her to the various victims who litter her hunting board. Mathilde obeys a mysterious sponsor. Their contacts, from telephone booths, are coded, concise, untraceable. We are in 1985, before the invention of cell phones, geolocation. It’s old-fashioned, custom work.

Secretly, Mathilde has a crush on her correspondent. They met during the Resistance. Mathilde had displayed the extent of her talents there, frightening in her composure, not skimping on cruelty, to the point of arousing unease among her comrades in the struggle. Despite his retching, Henri had a crush on this high-flying, perpetually unsuspected executioner. In this register as in the others, no confessions. Silence, discretion and repression as a course of action.

Mathilde is a seasoned, diligent, dazzling performer, who fulfills her contracts without qualms, collects her nest egg and waits to know who her next victim will be, immediately erased from her memory. In her suburban pavilion, she cultivates her garden and is subjected to the insistent curiosity of a suspicious neighbor whom she dreams of slaying.

This routine of death by prescription could continue for a long time, if a few grains of sand did not recently affect the smooth running of his small business. Misunderstandings, hesitations, mistakes, so many failures of a too well-oiled machine, begin to worry in high places. Shouldn’t we get rid of it before it’s too late?

This first novel, unpublished, by Pierre Lemaitre, flagship of a genre in which he distinguished himself, before knowing the consecration (Goncourt prize and adaptations to the cinema), finally published, marks his farewell to the noir novel which served him as a bench. to polish his style, a mixture of precision and humor, before embarking on “great literature”. Relentless and controlled, funny in the cold, precise and enjoyable, sinuous and punchy, it is a treat from start to finish.


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