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Tuesday, January 26, 2016


After the Crash -- Michel Bussi
Hachette Books
377 Pages

It doesn’t happen very often, but I occasionally pick up a book that has been translated from another language. I always have a fear that translated works lose something in the change over to English, and that some of the nuances that the native readers will readily acknowledge will leave English readers simply scratching their heads. For these reasons, generally try to avoid these novels. However, once I read the cover summary of After the Crash by Michel Bussi, I had a book that was going home with me.

In December 1980, a flight heading for Paris crashes into the Alps, seemingly killing everyone aboard. As rescuers reach the scene and struggle to extinguish the flames, they discover a three-month old baby is found alive, still strapped into its carrier. Apparently the young girl had been thrown free from the crash, and against all odds, survived the inferno. But who is the child?

According to the manifest, there were two children of the correct age and sex on the flight. Both families come forward to claim the mystery girl as their own. One of the families is a well-to-do family who has made a fortune in oil futures and have the means and drive to take the miracle baby by force, if necessary. The other is a hard-working family that barely scrapes by in their day-to-day jobs. Both sets of grandparents are convinced that the child belongs to them.

The de Carville family hires a private investigator to pull all the clues together to come up with the truth after the court awards the child to the working-class Vitral family. For eighteen years, investigator Grand-Duc combs the records and the mountainside for clues to the identity of the survivor. After those eighteen years, his work has been compiled into a journal that is given to the girl in question. It is this journal that makes up most of the book, with interludes of the characters reacting to the revelations of Grand-Duc’s discoveries.

This book will keep the reader guessing all the way to the end. Sometimes you believe that Lylie is the granddaughter of the Vitrals. Other times it seems that the de Carvilles are her real family. Back and forth, the clues pull the reader in different directions. All the way to the end, you're left wondering exactly who was the real family of the poor, little girl.

After the Crash by Michel Bussi is a true page-turner, especially if you’re the type of reader who tries to figure out the ending before actually turning that last page. I second guessed myself as I read this book. For awhile I thought I had it all figured out. Then a new piece of information would be unveiled and my expectations were drastically altered. In the end, the answer is something that no one is expecting. It comes with an “ah-ha!” moment that makes reading the novel worth every minute of reading.

Probably the biggest detractor for me with this novel is the black and white personalities of the characters. There’s not a lot of depth to any of them. The author lets his political leanings shine through with each page. The Vitrals, the poor working family, are written and viewed as reluctant heroes. At one point, the grandmother bemoans the fact that the Socialists seem to have lost the momentum they had during her youth. Conversely, the de Carvilles are vilified and written as inherently evil just because of their position in life. For them, money can buy anything, even scientific test results. They are written with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Once you get past the rather weak characters, the plot itself is an engaging story. While there are a few local, or native, colloquialisms, the reader gets an amazing translation of an amazing story. Michel Bussi is France’s leading crime fiction author. Having written 15 other books, this is the first to be translated into English. Hopefully the success of this novel in the American market will lead to more of his books to be translated. Then we’ll be able to see if his other works can grow on the effort of After the Crash.

+Craig Bacon once crashed a party. While he didn’t get the girl, he was thankful no one died -- especially after his parents found out where he was at. Follow his awesomeness on Twitter at @hippieboy73.



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