This series has been adapted into a TV show that is hugely popular in Quebec but the books were only available in french. Now they’re being translated, beginning with book #3. The MC’s are detectives Victor Lessard & Jacinthe Taillon, partners in the Major Crimes Unit in Montréal.
As the story opens, we learn Victor has just returned to work after being demoted. HIs last case left him a changed man & his physical/psychological fitness is about to be tested. It all begins when an elderly woman’s body is discovered in a warehouse. There’s not much to go on…just some very odd marks on her skin. But she is soon identified as Judith Harper, a retired psychiatrist.
Across town, a respected lawyer has received some disturbing mail. Not to worry. Nathan Lawson prepared for this day a long time ago & quickly puts his plan in motion.
Meanwhile, a beat cop in another part of the city is struggling to find family of an elderly man who jumped 10 stories to his death. It’s not like he didn’t have ID. In fact, he had 2 wallets….one belonging to someone named Judith Harper, the other to a Nathan Lawson.
Oh, Victor. You might want to see if you have any vacation time left. The story begins with several diverse plot lines following separate characters. Initially the only common denominator is none of them are having a good day (especially Judith). As more characters are introduced & the body count rises, it’s clear Victor & his team have a big, snarly murder spree on their hands.
The plot is like a labyrinth that twists in a multitude of directions, some of which reach back to seminal moments in the province’s political past. Canadians in particular will recognize references to the FLQ & October Crisis (see link below). It’s impossible to summarize & better to go in blind anyway. The cast is large & some of the chapters feature characters in different decades so you need to pay attention to the time lines. There are a lot of moving parts but instead of getting lost, I quickly found myself in “Damn it, I need to know what’s going on” territory.
Interspersed with all the chaos are subplots that expand on the characters’ personal lives, mostly in regard to Victor. He’s a flawed man whose recent experience made him reflect on & accept the mistakes he’s made. Despite dealing with PTSD, he’s a smart & intuitive cop given to poking around wherever his gut feeling leads.
So you’re probably wondering why 4 stars. Well, there are a couple of nitpicky procedural things that don’t ring true but unfortunately my main issue was with Jacinthe. I found her crude, offensive & belligerent. Think Roberta Steel without the humour. Her only obvious talent was an ability to navigate the snow covered streets of Montréal at high speed & I’m still pondering the author’s goal behind her character. Perhaps as a foil for Victor’s? I don’t have to like a character but I do need to feel they’re adding a particular element or fulfilling a necessary role. In his notes, the author states “everything, always, must serve the story” so it feels like I missed something as her contribution to the investigation is negligible.
It’s all down to personal taste & luckily for me, a number of compelling characters & the intricate plot made up for it. The present day investigation takes place during the Xmas season & the unending snow storms lend a claustrophobic feel that effectively adds to the building tension.
Just a heads up: there’s a fair amount of sexual content & the killer’s MO will have you googling a certain medieval torture device. The title is fitting & plays off the motto “Je me souviens” featured on Quebec license plates. It’s a well written & ambitious procedural that is all about memories….whether they be cherished, forgotten or tweaked.