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“Even the very worst memories are forgotten in the end, if you pile other ones on top of them, lots of other memories. Even the ones that have been etched on your heart, the ones that have left scars on your brain, even the most private ones. Particularly the most private ones. Because no one else cares about those.” – a policeman to Clotilde after the accident.

cover bussiIn this big, entertaining can’t-put-it-downer set in Corsica, best-selling French author Michel Bussi tells the story surrounding a terrible car accident which claimed the lives of three people in 1989 – the mother, father, and adored older brother of fifteen-year-old Clotilde Idrissi. Though she was injured, Clotilde survived the accident when the car her father was driving careened off a cliff, but she was so traumatized in the accident’s aftermath that she has never set foot on Corsica since then. Now, twenty-seven years have passed, and Clotilde has finally returned to the island from France with her husband Franck and her teenage daughter Valentine (Valou), hoping to resolve her residual fears and her questions about the accident. With impeccable pacing, author Bussi alternates the two time periods in successive chapters, creating in the odd-numbered chapters a vibrant narrative told by Clotilde as a fifteen-year-old vacationing on Corsica, and in the even-numbered chapters, creating a parallel narrative told by the now forty-two-year-old Clotilde as she returns to the island. Older, more sophisticated, but still curious, she is anxious to put to rest the questions she still has about the accident. An additional narrator provides a ghost-like third voice here, asking questions and providing commentary on the contents of a personal journal, believed lost, that Clotilde was writing on the day of the accident.

michel bussiBussi carefully delineates the personalities and backgrounds of the characters living on Corsica, and, in the case of Clotilde and her family, those who have come to visit and reconnect with family and people they knew from the time of the accident. The characters here are not easily confused, but this is a long novel, and the author is dealing with two different generations by the time of Clotilde’s return. Some readers will find it helpful to keep a character list to prevent confusion between the fathers and sons, with the same last names, and to distinguish among the former boyfriends and girlfriends from 1989, now married, but not always to the people they loved in 1989. Part of the novel’s length results from the author’s commitment to giving the histories and backgrounds of many characters as they appear here, as well as some of the history of Corsica itself and its traditions and attitudes. The novel is “full,” ripe with elements which author Bussi uses to increase the suspense and add depth to the mysteries throughout.

Renault Fuego, the four-seat sports car in which Clotilde's family was killed.

Renault Fuego, the four-seat sports car in which Clotilde’s family was killed.

The novel begins on August 23, 1989, as Clotilde Idrissi, her parents, and her eighteen-year-old brother get ready to drive from Arcanu Farm, the grandparents’ home in Corsica, to attend a concert in Prezzuna. Clotilde has been listening to her own music on headphones while she writes in her journal and has no interest in attending this concert. Her father, however, drags her away and insists that she join the family in the car, a beautiful red Renault Fuego, four-seat sports model. She leaves her journal behind, hoping that her grandmother will notice it and save it for her. Inside the car, Clotilde resents her father’s “silent rage” and seethes to herself about “this island that nobody cares about, their culture, their name, and the respect that was due to it.” As her father speeds along, Clotilde sees a tight curve ahead and is suddenly aware of their car continuing “on a straight line, like a cartoon, the hero running out into the void, then stopping, looking down at his feet in astonishment…then panic as he plummets like a stone” as the real world disappears beneath her. Both her parents and her brother have been killed instantly, though she has had only minor injuries.

Clotilde's favorite place to read and to escape the family is the Sea Calves Grotto

Clotilde’s favorite place to read and to escape the family is the Sea-Calves Grotto

From this horror, on August 23,1989, the author then turns the clock ahead to August 12, 2016, as Clotilde, now forty-two, leaves a small memorial beside the barrier on the road where her accident took place twenty-seven years ago. This section is then followed by her journal entry from August 7, 1989, two weeks before the accident, as Clotilde and her family drove ten hours from their home in Tourny, France, outside of Paris, to Genoa, Italy, for the ferry to Corsica. The first suspense of the novel begins when, at the end of this section, an unknown narrator comments that “she” had come back after twenty-seven years “to stir up the past,” and wonders “How far down would she want to dig? To which level of the sewers would she want to descend? How far along the foul tunnels of the Idrissi family secrets would she want to venture?” No clue is given as to identity.

Calvi's Citadel, where Clotilde wants to go to Tao, a restaurant at the top, which features cute, rich "arseholes on holiday."

Calvi’s Citadel, where Clotilde wants to go to Tao, a restaurant at the top, which features cute, rich “arseholes on holiday.”

This narrative pattern follows throughout the novel’s more than five hundred pages, with the 1989 sections gradually leading up to the crash on August 23, and the 2016 sections providing complications by revealing what has happened to people in Corsica and to the society itself since the accident. Many mysteries evolve as the narrative unfolds: Clotilde receives a letter in her mother’s handwriting; has her wallet and papers stolen; and meets a dog named Pacha, the name of her dog back in France. Evidence suggests that the steering column of the Fuego in the accident was tampered with, but by whom and why? And who has sabotaged a safety harness, worn by someone rapeling down a rock face? A cache of photographs from the 1989 accident disappears, a murder takes place, and relationships from the past change dramatically. Ghosts appear and disappear, the supernatural comes to life, and genealogies become confused. In short, the author keeps the pace of the action at warp speed while not neglecting characterizations.

A giant Moor's head, the symbol of Corsica.

A giant Moor’s head, the symbol of Corsica.

This novel is pure entertainment, fun to read in the summer, and exciting enough to keep a reader occupied during even the longest plane ride. The exotic setting on Corsica, one of the eighteen regions of France, adds to the excitement, revealing a society more like that of Sicily and or Sardinia than to Paris, its people honoring family traditions and histories that go back many generations. Though the novel is engaging and enjoyable, it is also a bit  “loose.” Some repetitions, unnecessary detail, and irrelevant information could have been eliminated to tighten up the narrative and make the suspense even more intense. Several summaries list questions which Clotilde has been trying to answer, but these take the narrative out of the moment and feel like unnecessary “reminders” to the reader in a novel which is already a bit too long.

Photos:  The author’s photo appears on https://www.hachettebookgroup.com

The Renault Fuego, a four-seat sports car, was designed in a wind tunnel by Robert Opron, who also designed the various Citroen models in the 1970s.  https://www.cargurus.com

The Sea-Calves Grotto was Clo’s favorite place to read and to escape her family.  https://www.pinterest.com

The medieval Citadel in the town of Calvi overlooks the beach and harbor in the northwest of Corsica.  Fifteen-year-old Clo wanted to go there to a restaurant at the top, which features cute, rich “arseholes on holiday.”  http://cycling-passion.com/

The symbol of Corsica is this Moor’s head, which appeared on the ferry which Clotilde and her family took to Corsica from Genoa.  https://en.wikipedia.org/

REVIEW. PHOTOS. Mystery, Thriller, Noir, France, Corsica
Written by: Michel Bussi
Published by: World Noir, Europa
Date Published: 04/10/2018
ISBN: 978-1609454425
Available in: Ebook Paperback

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