“Alex” – Pierre LeMaitre

Alex CoverI want to type the words “spoiler alert” so I can tell you everything.

But I won’t.

Well, maybe I will.

I’d put “Alex” right up there with the best mystery-thrillers I’ve ever read.

I would argue it is both mystery and thriller in equal doses, with plenty of clue-finding (mystery) and more flips and twists than a whole pack of gymnasts (thriller).  

Dark? Yes. Violent? In places, yes.  

I felt like I was reading a mash-up of one of Michael Connelly’s best Harry Bosch works and one of Patricia Highsmith’s psycho-dark stories like “Ripley Under Ground” or that out-of-control scene near the end of “Suspension of Mercy,” the scene with the pills.

But nothing about “Alex” felt derivative, either.

“Alex” alternates points of view between diminutive (4’11”) Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven and the victim of a kidnapping, Alex Prévost, who is stuffed in a too-small cage and left to die in an abandoned warehouse. For most of “Alex,” the scene is Paris.  (Can’t vouch for the translation, but loved the cool, unexcited writing style.)

Both Camille and Alex have issues. Camille is a brooding cop, but considering the way he’s treated and what he’s been through, he gets a pass from me. He’s relentless and curious and smart, even given nothing to work with. The cops squabble among each other. There are bureaucratic issues, fiefdoms, jealousies, egos. Camille prefers to get out his sketchpad and think.

It’s nearly impossible to write a review of “Alex” without giving too much away.  But the feeling of reading “Alex” is one where you’ll bring the book with you wherever you go in case you get a minute or two to sneak in a few more moments.

I can’t remember a story line that turned on itself so many times—and pulled it off so well. I never felt mistreated by the way the plot was structured, even as the game changed and shifted (and I’m biting my fingers now so I don’t type too much).

“Alex” is a grisly but when all is revealed the violence is … appropriate? Justified? Just right given the backstory (the part I can’t write about)?

“Alex” is so good you want to say as little as possible. So I tried to do my best.

Okay, here are those two cautionary words: spoiler alert.  Read the last thought only if you don’t want to be surprised. (And I’ll still try not to give too much away).

I have never read a book where one of the main characters transformed before my eyes from victim to protagonist to judge to executioner.  What a ride.

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