Friday, 14 June 2013

Forogtten Book - The 10.30 from Marseille

Sebastien Japrisot, an author I've mentioned before on this blog, was one of the major French crime writers of the 60s, and although not very prolific, his books remain very readable indeed. The 10.30 from Marseille, also known as The Sleeping Car Murders, was his debut, but it's an impressively mature and original piece of work, which I really enjoyed reading.

The body of a young woman, Georgette Thomas, is discovered when the eponymous train comes to the end of its journey. An inspector called Grazziano, backed up by a young cop called Gabert, leads the investigation whilst his boss, Commissioner Tarquin, stays out of the firing line. The case rapidly becomes more complex as, one by one, the occupants of the sleeping car in which the woman was found are themselves murdered.

The translation by Francis Price is suitably crisp, and the pace is fast, aided by recurring changes of viewpoint. You can never be quite sure what, exactly, is going on, and the mystification is not irritating (as can sometimes be the case) but enticing. I really wanted to know what the solution was.

Inevitably, it turned out to be something unlikely, but it was also totally unexpected and, I think, cleverly done. Yes, one has to suspend disbelief, but Japrisot's skill is such that I was willing to do so. The fact that it's a relatively short book was also a strength. A puzzle as elaborate and unusual as this should not outstay its welcome. All in all, a remarkable debut, which heralded a career that was genuinely impressive, if not overly productive in terms of the number of novels Japrisot wrote. Those he did publish are definitely worth seeking out.

Incidentally, I'm going to be inflicting a new blog post on you on a daily basis for the next few weeks, all being well. Tomorrow, I'll look at three new books by relatively unfamiliar writers.

8 comments:

Fiona said...

Daily blog entries? Excellent news!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Fiona!

Daniel said...

I'm interested in your comment about mysteries walking a line between the enticing and the irritating, Martin. How do you keep it on the enticing side? I've never felt irritated by Agatha Christie, for instance, but I found The Hollow Man hugely irritating (am I being blasphemous?) and locked-room mysteries in general wind me up ... I wonder why.

Martin Edwards said...

Good question, Daniel, and an answer might fill a whole blog post. So you've given me an idea! I think Christie is less ornate than Carr and some people find the ornateness off-putting. But of course it's more complex than that.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed everything about this book--the pace, the plotting, the details--until I reached the solution to the crime, which I found to be lazy from a creative point-of-view and unfair to the reader. It just seemed unworthy of the great material that came before it.

Deb

Martin Edwards said...

Good to hear from you, Deb. That solution certainly took me by surprise!

Nan said...

Not 'inflicting' ever. I'll look for The 10.30 from Marseille. Thanks.

Lauren said...

Is this one really forgotten? I think it was one of the first non Christie/Conan-Doyle crime novels that I read and enjoyed, and considering I found most of my books back then by grabbing the first thing on the library shelves (I come from a family of non-readers with parents who were so keen for me to read that they ferried me to and from the library regularly, realising that I would borrow too many books to manage on the bus/train!) it can't have been that obscure. Although Stanton Library in Sydney did have virtually the complete works of Ngaio Marsh, and this was into the 90s, so...

Anyway, I didn't mind the ending, but I've always been more of a how/whydunnit fan than trying to follow or guess a puzzle, so I wasn't all that worried about it not being fair. (I suppose I don't agree with Knox on that one.)