Review: Severe – Régis Jauffret

severeI was pleased to hear about Salammbo Press, a new publisher dedicated to publishing “the works of great contemporary novelists celebrated in their own country, but as yet unknown to British readers”.  Salammbo are publishing three books by French writer Régis Jauffret who has 18 books to his name and won the Prix Femina in 2005 which is decided each year by an all-female jury (although it is awarded to both men and women).

Severe is a classic “noir” crime novel, dealing with some very dark themes, notably the murder of a wealthy banker by his mistress. Unlike Guy of His Futile Preoccupations, I am not familiar with the noir genre but a quick look at Bill Ponzini’s article What is noir crime fiction?, tells me that “the noir crime story deals with disorder, disaffection, and dissatisfaction. The typical noir character has a jaundiced view of government, power, and the law. He (or sometimes she) is often a loner, a social misfit. He is likely a predator, and as morally bankrupt as any human being can be”.  This certainly sums up this book pretty well (as can be seen from the cover illustration).

Severe is based on the murder of Édouard Stern, a personal friend of Nicolas Sarkozy with a taste for sado-masochism, who was found shot dead in his apartment wearing a head-to-toe latex cat-suit. The murderer, Cécile Brossard, was sentenced to eight years in prison but was freed on parole after five years in 2010.

When I read the book I didn’t know that it was based on a real-life case as it’s not mentioned on the cover.  The book is written in the first person by the Brossard character, and is a very stylish read.  It grabs your attention from the first paragraph, which describes the murder in a few sparse sentences.

I met him one spring evening.  I became his mistress.  I bought the latex suite he was wearing on the day he died.  I acted as his sexual secretary.  He introduced me to firearms.  He gave me a revolver. I extorted a million dollars out of him.  He took it back. I slaughtered him with a bullet between his eyes.  He fell from the chair where I’d tied him up.  He was still breathing. I finished him off.  I went to take a shower. I picked up the shells.  I put them in my bag with the revolver. I slammed the door of the apartment behind me.

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