‘The Accident on the A35’ by Graeme Macrae Burnet sees the return of Inspector Georges Gorski who featured in The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau. His latest case in the sleepy French town of Saint-Louis in Alsace involves the circumstances surrounding a car accident which fatally injures prominent local solicitor Bertrand Barthelme. Although there is no evidence to suggest a crime has been committed, it is soon discovered that Barthelme had repeatedly lied about his whereabouts to his wife Lucette and teenage son Raymond so Gorski agrees to Lucette’s request to look into the circumstances further. Meanwhile Raymond discovers the address of a house in the rue Saint-Fiacre in Mulhouse on a piece of paper in his father’s desk and sets out to conduct his own investigation.
Those who have read His Bloody Project and ‘The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau’ will be familiar with the literary device Burnet has used here in which he introduces the book claiming to have discovered and translated a lost manuscript by French author Raymond Brunet (note the similar names). It is said that Brunet took his own life after publishing ‘The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau’ several years ago and had instructed his lawyers not to send his other manuscripts to his publisher until after his mother had died. Although the device is no longer a novelty, it is still deployed highly effectively in Burnet’s third novel. The case of Barthelme’s car accident would be fairly unexceptional on its own merit but the metafictional aspects add an extra dimension of mystery. Most notably, speculation about the parallels between Raymond Barthelme and the purported author Raymond Brunet and the extent to which the story is autobiographical become particularly important.
As the reader is reminded in the “afterword”: “The real measure of ‘truth’ in any novel is not whether the characters, places and events portrayed exist beyond the pages of the book, but, rather, whether they seem authentic to us as readers.” As with Burnet’s debut novel, those expecting a plot-driven thrillers with neat endings might want to look elsewhere, but his depictions of socially awkward male characters and drab provincial backwater settings certainly feel convincing. The character of Raymond Barthelme shares more than a few personality traits with Manfred Baumann from ‘The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau’ and Roddy Macrae from ‘His Bloody Project’ and his psychological profile is explored thoroughly. Elsewhere, Inspector Gorski himself is now separated from his wife and we learn more about his past too.
A third outing for Inspector Gorski hasn’t been confirmed yet but it is revealed in the “afterword” that ‘L’accident sur l’A35’ was one of two manuscripts sent to Brunet’s publisher, indicating that a follow-up is a strong possibility. Whether or not Gorski has another case to solve, I hope there isn’t too long to wait for another book by Graeme Macrae Burnet.