If you’re a crime reader, Michel Bussi should be on your reading list
If you like reading crime fiction and haven’t heard of Michel Bussi yet, stop right here:
Michel Bussi is a publishing phenomenon in his native France: he now regularly achieves sales of over 500,000 copies annually and was the fifth biggest selling French author in 2014.
Each book is a masterpiece in crime writing, seamlessly merging the popular with the literary, and revealing facets of human psychology effortlessly, as all good crime writing should do. Black Water Lilies is the stand-out for me; I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but it is perhaps the most innovative work of crime writing since Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. (And that is not a hyperbole.)
Bussi’s books are intricately plotted; his most recent book, Don’t Let Go, is set on Reunion Island (whose precise location I had to google), and deals with a disappeared wife (in all likelihood, she’s been murdered) and a suspicious husband. Although solving the crime is of paramount importance, what Bussi does is introduce the reader to this Indian Ocean island through creole, informing the reader about the various identities that populate the island, and of the subtle tensions that provide an unseen undercurrent much like the Ocean that binds the island.
After the Crash is a straightforward tale of mistaken identities: two infant girls are on a flight that crashes, but only one survives. Two families fight over the child — and so begins a tale full of red herrings, twists and turns, and one of the simplest expositions in a crime thriller ever.
But it’s in Black Water Lilies that Bussi’s expansive writing really shines. We are told the story of Giverny, in whose gardens Claude Monet of the Impressionist fame painted his famous lilies, through the eyes of three different women: a gifted child-prodigy, a school teacher, and an old widow. The writing is truly magnificent, moving across timelines and pasts as effortlessly as Monet’s strokes. What we have, by the end, is a crime masterpiece.
The translation and publication of Bussi into English also represents something else altogether: the global dominance of English as a language and in the publishing industry. He is part of a new generation of extraordinary crime writers writing in languages other than English — such as the Japanese writer Keigo Higashino and Swiss writer Joel Dicker — who’ve recently been translated into English. It can be reasonably ascertained the translations would have been affected by the massive success and resurgence of crime writing (Gone Girl, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl on the Train).
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was responsible for the revival of Nordic noir. With Bussi’s success, and the success of Higashino and Dicker, I hope more and more crime writing from different languages is translated to English.
(Disclaimer: I have previously worked at Hachette India, the Indian publishers of Michel Bussi)