Europa World Noir, 2014
originally published as Le cimetière des birondelles, 2012
translated by Steven Rendall
Once in a while I pick up a crime novel that literally blows me away. Cemetery of Swallows, published by Europa Editions as part of their World Noir series is one of them. By the last few chapters I was literally talking to the main character out loud saying "come on! I know you'll figure this out! I know there's got to be a logical explanation!" I don't tend to get that excited in the normal course of crime reading, but this book put me through the wringer and kept me there up until the last minutes.
Police superintendent Amédée Mallock is famous for his work on difficult cases. He lives alone, and considers himself “the king of the homebodies” since having lost his wife and son some years ago. He has haunting and recurring dreams about his little boy, and never talks about him to anyone. He's a great cop and he has a great team. One of his team members is Julie, and a week before we first meet Mallock on a plane to the Dominican Republic, she tells him she must take a special leave because of her brother. Her distress is so obvious that Mallock has to ask her why. She relates a very unusual story to her boss that started a week earlier. One morning, her brother Manuel Gemoni was watching a video a friend gave him about cigars (which he's passionate about) and cigar making in the Dominican Republic, when he recognizes a face on the screen. He doesn't know who it is exactly, but he knows he has to kill him. Abandoning his wife and baby, he travels to the island nation, where he waits in a place he knows the guy will eventually show up. When the opportunity arises, Gemoni kills him in front of a number of witnesses and is himself wounded and then arrested. The only thing Julie really knows is that upon his arrest, her brother made a bizarre statement that no one understands:
"I killed him because he had killed me."
I have a post about this novel on the crime page, but for now I'll say that Cemetery of Swallows is not only innovative, but it's also one of those books where you literally have to wait until the very end -- only then does the light bulb go on and you get to the "aha" payoff moment. Whatever this guy writes in the future, I'll be buying as soon as it's published.