One of the more noteworthy results of the success of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” etc.) has been the steady proliferation of European crime novels in English translations. While fellow Scandinavians such as Jo Nesbo, Karin Fossum and Arnaldur Indridason have been particularly successful here, other, non-Nordic countries continue to send their exports our way. The latest example is France’s Pierre Lemaitre, who makes an auspicious English-language debut with “Alex,” co-winner, along with Fred Vargas’s “The Ghost Riders of Ordebec,” of the Crime Writers Association’s International Dagger Award.
“Alex” is the second volume (but the first to be published here) in a projected trilogy featuring Commandant Camille Verhoeven of the “brigade criminelle” of Paris. A brilliant investigator and natural outsider, Verhoeven is 4 feet 11 inches tall. His height is the result of fetal hypertrophy, caused by the fact that his mother, renowned artist Maud Verhoeven, smoked incessantly while pregnant with him. Verhoeven carries another burden, one that very nearly destroyed him. Some years earlier, his wife, Irene, herself eight months pregnant, was kidnapped and murdered. The subsequent trauma led to a series of extended stays in psychiatric clinics and convalescent homes. Eventually, he returned to work, taking on only minor cases, such as crimes of passion where “the deaths are behind you, not in front.” He rigorously avoids all kidnapping cases, finding himself unable to cope with the inevitable memories.