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Cocktail of Art and Murder
French writer Michel Bussi’s Black Water Lilies (translated by Shaun Whiteside) has an unusual setting—Giverny. This is the village where the great Impressionist Claude Monet settled down to paint water lilies. It became a kind of pilgrim spot for students and art lovers who flock to see Monet’s house and the legendary lily pond.
In this peaceful community, a murder causes some turbulence. The story begins with the murder of art lover and womanizer, Jerome Morval. In his pocket is a postcard of Monet’s Water Lilies with the words: “Eleven years old. Happy Birthday.” The killer could be someone from the art underworld that trades in stolen masterpieces, or the jealous husband of one of his many lady friends, or perhaps one of the ladies.
The narrator is an old woman who watches over the village from her high perch in an abandoned mill, ignored by all but her dog Neptune. When Inspector Laurenc Serenac and his overeager deputy Sylvio Benavides start investigating the crime, they get a lot of tangled leads that don’t make sense.
Serenec falls madly in love with a schoolteacher Stephanie Dupain, whose husband Jacques is a suspect, a man known to be insanely possessive of his beautiful wife. Involved somehow in the jigsaw is eleven-year-old Fanette, an art prodigy, seeking a way out of her squalid existence with her single mother, by winning an international art exhibition.
Fanette has befriended a vagabond American painter James, who is also killed in the same way as Morval was, but it looks like the child imagined the artist, since no trace of him can be found. Benavides unearths a very old case in which a little boy also died in an identical manner.
Bussi constructs a maze of memories, time, motive and passion, that boggle the mind and lead to a stunning and quite unexpected climax. After the bestselling After The Crash, this is the second novel by Bussi to be translated into English and it is a fascinating read, in spite of the somewhat disjointed structure and a sagging middle.
Black Water Lilies
by Michel Bussi
Translated by Shaun Whiteside
Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Hachette
Excerpt of Michel Bussi’s After The Crash
23 December, 1980, 12.33 a.m. The Airbus 5403, flying from Istanbul to Paris, suddenly plummeted. In a dive lasting less than ten seconds, the plane sank over three thousand feet, before stabilizing once again. Most of the passengers had been asleep. They woke abruptly, with the terrifying sensation that they had nodded off while strapped to a rollercoaster.
Izel was woken not by the turbulence, but by the screaming. After nearly three years spent traveling the world with Turkish Airlines, she was used to a few jolts. She had been on a break, asleep for less than twenty minutes, and had scarcely opened her eyes when her colleague Meliha thrust her aged, fleshy bosom toward her.
“Izel? Izel? Hurry up! This is serious. There’s a big storm outside. Zero visibility, according to the captain. You take one aisle and I’ll take the other.”
Izel’s face bore the weary expression of an experienced air hostess who wasn’t about to panic over such a small thing. She got up from her seat, adjusted her suit, pulling slightly at the hem of her skirt, then moved toward the right-hand aisle.
The passengers were no longer screaming, and they looked more surprised than worried as the airplane continued to pitch. Izel went from one person to the next, calmly reassuring them: “Everything’s fine. Don’t worry. We’re just going through a little snowstorm over the Jura mountains. We’ll be in Paris in less than an hour.”
Izel’s smile wasn’t forced. Her mind was already wandering toward Paris. She would stay there for three days, until Christmas, and she was giddy with excitement at the prospect.
She addressed her words of comfort in turn to a ten- year-old boy holding tightly to his grandmother’s hand, a handsome young businessman with a rumpled shirt, a Turkish woman wearing a veil, and an old man curled up fearfully with his hands between his knees. He shot her an imploring look.
“Everything’s fine, honestly.”
Izel was calmly proceeding down the aisle when the Airbus lurched sideways again. A few people screamed.
“When do we start doing the loop-de-loop?” shouted a young man sitting to her right, who was holding a Walkman, his voice full of false cheer.
A trickle of nervous laughter was drowned out almost immediately by the screams of a young baby. The child was lying in a carrycot just a few feet in front of Izel—a little girl, only a few months old, wearing a white dress with orange flowers under a knitted beige sweater. “No, madame,” Izel called out. “No!” The mother, sitting next to the baby, was unbuckling her belt so she could lean over to her daughter. “No, madame,” Izel insisted. “You must keep your seatbelt on. It’s very important . . .”
The woman did not even bother turning around, never mind replying to the air hostess. Her long hair fell over the carrycot. The baby screamed even louder. Izel, unsure what to do, moved toward them. The plane plunged again. Three seconds, maybe another 3,000 feet. There were a few brief screams, but most of the passengers were silent. Dumbstruck. They knew now that the airplane’s movements were not merely due to bad weather. Jolted by the dive, Izel fell sideways. Her elbow hit the Walkman, smashing it into the young guy’s chest. She straightened up again immediately, not even taking the time to apologize.
In front of her, the three month-oldgirl was still crying. Her mother was leaning over her again, unbuckling the child’s seatbelt. “No, madame! No. . .” Cursing, Izel tugged her skirt back down over her laddered tights. What a nightmare. She would have earned those three days of pleasure in Paris...
Everything happened very fast after that. For a brief moment, Izel thought she could hear another baby crying, like an echo, somewhere else on the airplane, further off to her left. The Walkman guy’s hand brushed her nylon-covered thighs. The old Turkish man had put one arm around his veiled wife’s shoulder and was holding the other one up, as if begging Izel to do something.
The baby’s mother had stood up and was reaching over to pick up her daughter, freed now from the straps of the carrycot. These were the last things Izel saw before the Airbus smashed into the mountainside. The collision propelled Izel thirty feet across the floor, into the emergency exit. Her two shapely legs were twisted like those of a plastic doll in the hands of a sadistic child; her slender chest was crushed against metal; her left temple exploded against the corner of the door. Izel was killed instantly.
In that sense, she was luckier than most. She did not see the lights go out. She did not see the airplane being mangled and squashed like a tin can as it crashed into the forest, the trees sacrificing themselves one by one as the Airbus gradually slowed. And, when everything had finally stopped, she did not detect the spreading smell of kerosene. She felt no pain when the explosion ripped apart her body, along with those of the other twenty-three passengers who were closest to the blast. She did not scream when flames filled the cabin, trapping the one hundred and forty-five survivors.
Anish Sarkar adds to the still meager list of Indian thriller, with Second Lives, a fast-paced thriller set in Goa.
According to the synopsis: “Three old friends – Sara, Neel and Omar – reunite in Goa after the sudden death of Rachel Fernandes, a member of their group. Discovering that Rachel, a sports journalist, had been doing a story on the brutal killing of a foreign tourist, they are puzzled by her interest in such a grisly crime. It emerges that Rachel’s investigation went far beyond a single murder, and their lives are soon under threat too.
With a traumatic event from their teenage years coming back to haunt them, the trio realises that the mystery has its roots in their own past. In the midst of battling their personal demons, they make a desperate plan to flush out a sadistic killer in the sylvan setting of their old boarding school in the Himalayan foothills. With the body count rising and long-buried secrets tumbling out, will they succeed?”
By Anish Sarkar
Published by Westland
When a book comes with an endorsement from Ruskin Bond, it can be picked up. The story of a filmmaker’s spiritual journey takes the reader to Rishikesh, where the protagonist seeks solace; the writer himself lives a simple live by the Ganga, having been through a journey of spiritual enlightenment himself.
The synopsis reveals, “Indraneel is a young and successful film-maker, an alumnus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In an intoxicating relationship with a young and beautiful aspiring actress, his next film is being hailed as a blockbuster. Things couldn’t be going any better. Suddenly, without warning, Indraneel’s life overturns. Hurt floods his heart and soul, seemingly beyond redemption… He arrives in Rishikesh, a mountain town by the river. The artist within him, as well as the bruised individual, senses the timeless love and solace emanating from the Ganga and the Himalayas, but innumerable whys continue to invade his thoughts. Introduced to Shaman, a bookseller with a difference and a ‘closet guru’, the deeply sceptical Indraneel is introduced to a bewilderingly new, yet strangely magnetic world of spiritual seeking.
“As the seasons pass, as pass they will... Indraneel gradually opens his mind to what he finds around him, delving step by step into the truth about spirituality and human existence. A measure of peace finally descends on his tormented mind. But the world beckons yet again and Indraneel stands at a crossroads once more. He is asked to make a difficult choice. Will he submit to the strong current of spirituality now flowing within him? Does a spiritual life mean giving up everything else? Can he ever go back to the world? Will he find the happiness he so desperately seeks?”
When Life Turns Turtle: Journey of a Bollywood Tramp
By Raj Supe