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.