THE BODY VANISHES (1976) by Jacquemard-Sénécal

Jacquemard-Senecal_Body-Vanishes_collinscrimeclubOriginally published in France as ‘Le Crime de la maison Grün’, this elaborate murder mystery was the earliest book by the team of Yves Jacquemard (1943-1980) and Jean-Michel Sénécal to be translated into English. Although the prose is a little bit heavy on the adjectives, this is a fairly amusing hommage to the Golden Age tradition with a humdinger of an ending. The setting is Strasbourg and the eponymous corpse belongs to Dyana Pasquier, the long-time live-in girlfriend of Denis Grün. His father Wotan is an alleged alchemist and the most powerful man in town.

I submit this review for Bev’s 2014 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in the ‘in translation’ category.

“It doesn’t make sense!” Inspector Holz protested to his superior officer. “A body that turns up, disappears and then turns up again! I hope it’s not going to disappear again …”

Dyana’s body is found in the local river and the police called. By the time the authorities arrive – in the shape of Superintendent Dullac and Inspector Holz – the body has disappeared, only to then turn up again inside Wotan’s office, which has been ransacked. Later Wotan is shot at by an unseen gunman, but survives the ordeal. Does someone have it in for the family? Why bother to move the body in the first place? The authors had already collaborated on over a dozen stage plays before embarking on a second career as novelists, so it is no great surprise that the emphasis is largely on dialogue. This is especially noticeable in the opening chapters, which see Dullac (whose first name – according to John Norris – is Lancelot, though I missed this joke in my reading I’m afraid …) and Holz interrogate the various members of the Grün family and the members of the discussion group they had all been attending the night of the crime. It doesn’t get them very far, leading to this amusing exchange:

“Someone’s making monkeys of us, Holz!”
“Yes, but who? Damnit, who?”
“Abigail Andros,” Dullac said promptly.
“Abigail Andros? Why on earth?”
“I don’t know. Because she’s the least likely suspect.”
“Now you’re laughing at me, Chief!”

Jacquemard_Senecal-Le-Crime-de-la-Maison-GrunIn a book that is only 170 pages long (in my Collins Crime Club hardback edition, pictured above), this questioning takes up nearly one-hundred pages, and at one point in the middle of this comes a protracted single forty-page chapter dealing with Wotan, his very young wife and the two children from his previous marriage. In other words, for this reader at least, it became a bit of a chore, especially given that the tone is somewhat arch and artificial (this is clearly intentional and Gordon Latta’s translation into British English seems perfectly adequate and unproblematic). At least with Ngaio Marsh you had the more interesting character set up before the murder – but this book starts with the discovery of the stiff!

“…there’s no such thing as a perfect crime; otherwise, where would we be?”

However, there is some droll humour and events certainly do pick up in the final thirty pages with another death, leading to a surprise ending that reminded me a lot of late Ellery Queen. It cannot be discussed, in fairness, though it is pretty satisfying in its complication, though I dare say many may feel is is not really fairly clued. The notorious John F. Norris reviewed this book over at his blog, Pretty Sinister Books and you really should head there right now to get a much more sensible overview of its merits.

Incidentally, the novel was adapted for the screen in 1984 but I’m afraid I know very little about it except that it was directed by Renaud Saint-Pierre and starred Jean-Michel Sénécal himself – here is the listing at IMDb.

I submit this review for Bev’s 2014 Silver Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in the ‘in translation’ category:

vintage-silver-translated

***** (2 fedora tips out of 5)

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31 Responses to THE BODY VANISHES (1976) by Jacquemard-Sénécal

  1. Colin says:

    A 40 page chapter in a book that only runs to 170! This may be petty on my part, but I don’t like that at all. The story itself appears of interest but the construction doesn’t attract me I’m afraid.

  2. Given that my attention span seems to be at an all time low, I think I’ll give this one a miss too. Great review.

    • Thanks Steve – if you ever do I would love to know what you think in terms of how fair it is. it’s a very knowing book, not really a pastiche, made with planty of love fpor the Golden Age, especially Christie. They really made their reputation with their ‘follow up’ to TEN LITTLE INDIANS set during a production of the stage play adaptation of the book in which the whole cast is bumped off …

      • Santosh Iyer says:

        Follow up to 10 Little Indians ? That seems more interesting. Can you give more details of it ?

        • Hi Santosh – sure can. It’s set in a theatre that is staging a production of a new adaptation of Christie’s original novel. Then the entire cast, except one, is poisoned and a stranger is also found among the dead. The whole books is built on the Christie original and assumes the reader knows the ending of the book too – John Norris did a terrific review of it for Pretty Sinister Books – to read it, click here.

  3. TomCat says:

    Your and John’s difference in reviews makes it very hard for a reader, like me, to properly place this title on my list priorities. The other one promised lots of wizardry and appeal for fans of puzzle-driven detective stories. I love puzzles disguised as wizardry.

    • I take your point TC and indeed have sent John a quick email because we do seem to have had a strangely different reaction – this does not have any truly ‘impossible’ elements it seems to me beyond the fact that everybody seems to have an alibi (so more Christie than Carr shall we say). Ultimately the business about the bodies is not so important while the second death, despite what John says, does not have any clever mechanics involved – that is in fact used to set up an alibi. It is very clever though …

  4. Sergio – You know there’s something a bit off about a story if it’s only 170 pages, but still felt like somewhat of a chore to read. Sounds like an interesting mystery, though.

  5. I read the two two J-S books a very long time ago, and can’t recall much about the detail of the stories. My overall reaction was that I enjoyed them, but felt they didn’t quite live up to my expectations, which had been high. I suspect if I read them again (and your review and John’s may tempt me to) I may enjoy them more, because coming to a book with particular expectations (high or low) can very much affect the reading experience, at least for me.

    • Thanks very much Martin – my reaction was also I think based on very high expectations – it does offer a good puzzle and has a decent payoff but the central section, for me, dragged too much.

  6. Santosh Iyer says:

    Yes, as Tom Cat says, yours and John’s different views on the book make it hard for the reader. Of course, opinions vary from person to person.
    However, I remember the review of Laura by John where he says that the book is much more interesting than the film, whereas I found the book utterly dull and preferred the film. Hence I am inclined to go along with you. 🙂

    • That might be a mistake Santosh 🙂 John really, really knows his stuff and I usuall agree with him completely (even implicitly). I have a funny feeling we’ll need a third person to chime in on this because John and I seem to have different recollections about the details of the plot frankly … Bit odd! Apologies for any confusion caused 🙂

    • PS John has updated his original review as there was a slight error that crept into his recollection of how the second death occurred in the book. I just wish the book had been the way John remembered it! Which goes to prove, John gets things right even when he is a little bit wrong 🙂

      • Santosh Iyer says:

        Well, I looked for the book at Amazon and find that there is only one review there. The reviewer seems to agree more with you. He says that 150 pages consist of interviews of witnesses and potential suspets. He also says that this is not a fair play mystery. In the last capter, it is disclosed that Dullac has privately investigated several matters and has acquired knowledge not known to the readers before.

        • This is all true Santosh 🙂 If you can get a copy chaply it is probably worth a look, but otherwise there are plenty of more deserving titles out there, I would have to agree.

          • Santosh Iyer says:

            I am no longer interested in this book. However, I am interested in the other book The Eleventh Little Indian. It seems that you have that book also. When will you review it ?

          • Hi Santosh – it will have to wait until early February I’m afraid as I am not going to be posting very much between now and late January. Hope you have a good break over the holidays.

  7. tracybham says:

    This book sounds interesting to me mainly because it is a translation, not written in English, not set in the US or UK. I agree with Martin Edwards that expectations make a difference, and I will give this a try if I find a copy someday. No rush, since I have too, too many books unread. (Including a couple of Martin Edwards’ books).

  8. Thanks for the review, Sergio. I’l keep this in mind for now. My reading of translated fiction including by writers in regional languages of India is less than pathetic. My theory is that non-English novels tend to be more verbose.

  9. Yvette says:

    Another book I’d never heard of, Sergio, and one I probably won’t be reading. But still and all, it’s fun to read your point of view on this very chilly evening. I never know what I’m going to find on your blog and that’s just the way I like it. 🙂

    Also want to wish you and your family a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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