Review – The Lying-Down Room by Anna Jaquiery

By | June 19, 2014

Paris; in the stifling August heat, Commandant Serge Morel is called to a disturbing crime scene. An elderly woman has been murdered to the soundtrack of Faure’s Requiem, her body then grotesquely displayed.

At first this strange case seems to offer few clues; and Morel has problems of his own. His father – always a great force in his life – is beginning to succumb to senility; and he is unsettled by the reappearance of the beautiful Mathilde, the woman he once loved. Only origami can help calm the detective and focus his thoughts on this troubling crime.

As the investigation progresses, the key suspects to emerge are a middle-aged man and a mute teenage boy who have been delivering religious pamphlets in the city’s suburbs. But as more elderly ladies are targeted, Morel will find his inquiries leading him back into the past, from the French countryside to Soviet Russia – and to two young boys with the most terrible of stories to tell . . .

I’m not much of a crime fiction reader – the Scandi crime sensation has totally passed me by, and I rarely have the energy to tackle a book series – but I’m delighted I discovered this book. The Lying-Down Room is the first in a new series, set in Paris, with Serge Morel and his team tracking down a serial killer: it as published by Mantle in hardback and Kindle editions on 10th April.

The crime itself was almost incidental to the story, although highly original and well worked through.  What really made the book stand out for me was the characterisation, and the extraordinarily vivid depiction of the French settings through a stifling summer.  Serge Morel is an absolutely fascinating and complex character, his professional and public life set against his solitary private life, his obsession with a former lover, sharing a house with his difficult and ailing father, involvement in a relationship with a married woman.  He unwinds by making origami birds and animals – the design and building of an owl sustain him through the most testing parts of the investigation.  I also loved his team: the feisty Lila, who has a forensic mind for detail but a more troubled personal life, is the perfect foil for Morel, and every other character (including his obnoxious superior Perrin and the sleazy pathologist Richard Martin) is equally well drawn. 

This isn’t really an edge of your seat thriller, its beauty lies in the way the characters unfold, and there is a wealth of background detail about them ready to be explored in future books.  The setting and atmosphere are wonderful – you sweat along with Morel as he sits in the Paris traffic in his cherry red Volvo without air conditioning, wait with him in his car as he stalks his ex-lover Mathilde, feel the awkwardness in his relationship with his father, walk with him and Lila as they enter the unfriendly bar in rural Brittany and feel the rough edges being removed by the cheap red wine. The author writes quite superbly – this might be crime writing, but it’s also up there with the very best of literary fiction – and the world she creates totally absorbed me as I read.  I don’t want to entirely ignore the crime and the killer either, or his victims – the elderly women he targets become leading characters in their own right, the details of their lives minutely described and often very moving.  And the crime, the motives and the psychological aspects are highly believable and authentic.

I loved this one. Its publishers describe it as “an evocative, gripping crime novel with an aching heart” – a description that totally sums it up for me. Don’t be put off if you’re not a particular fan of crime fiction – the characters and the wonderful writing will certainly have me returning to Paris for the next book by this highly accomplished author. 

My thanks to Amazon Vine for providing my proof copy for review.

Anna Jaquiery is of French-Malaysian descent and grew up in Europe and Asia. She has worked as a journalist in several countries, starting out as a freelance reporter in Russia. She is currently based in Melbourne with her husband and two sons. The Lying-Down Room is her first novel.