A keeper from the French sea
'Article 353' by Tanguy Viel a surgically slim masterpiece

A keeper from the French sea
Jeffrey Mannix - 03/07/2019

“Even the laughing terns perched on the sharp ridges of the few distant rocks jutting above the horizon seemed to think that what had just happened was normal, I mean a guy falling into cold water and trying to swim fully dressed, gasping and yelling to me for help ... I could already sense that even the seagulls, looking as white and cold as nurses because they never blink, even the seagulls approved.”

Article 353 of the French Penal Code states that “the law does not ask judges to account or the ways they reach decisions, and it does not prescribe rules by which they must particularly weigh the sufficiency or adequacy of evidence; it requires that they determine in silence and contemplation and in the sincerity of their conscience what impression the evidence against the accused and the means of that person’s defense have made on their thinking. The law asks of them only this one question, which contains the full measure of their duty: Are you fully convinced?”

Article 353, the new book by eminent French crime fiction stylist Tanguy Viel, is everything crime fiction used to be and ought to be for those of us with a reading intellect whetted by genuine artistic talent working in the dark reaches of life’s endurance. At the very fringes of the penumbra cast by classic European crime writers like Georges Simenon, Pascal Garnier and Dorothy B. Hughes, Viel is lionized and fitted into a former century for his surgically crafted, chaste stories that bore holes in the reader’s memory. And no reviewer can so admire this slim volume without acclaiming the warp and weft of the elegant translation into English by William Rodarmor, of Berkeley, Calif.

In a coastal town on the northern shoreline of France, the slow but steady wearing out of the last century’s shipyard and fishing industries has impoverished proud men and stable families. It is here that Martial Kermeur has handed himself over for the murder of Antoine Lazenec, 

a smarmy real estate swindler. His fast talk and promises of delivering stable retirement income to everybody deeding him landholdings to develop a seaside resort revealed itself as nothing but a confidence game. Still the gadabout town after two years of back slapping, defrauding pensioners from their deeds, flashing about in his expensive sports car, reflecting sunshine in his cufflinks and aviator sunglasses, manicured fingernails and gold dentition, Lazenec invited Kermeur out on his new sport fishing boat. It was a transparent gesture to keep the caged animals quiet while starving them. A mile out, while pulling a trap for crabs and lobsters, Kermeur simply bumped Lazenec over the rail into the frigid waters. He then motored away ignoring the shouts and swearing of a man sure to drown or freeze to death while the lights of the small harbor seemed close enough to agonize hope.

Article 353 tells of Kermeur’s measured explanation to the trial judge of why he executed the inauspicious real estate developer. This is a brilliant story. We’re short of brilliant, and you’ll be a far less competent reader if you don’t spend the cost of lunch downtown to own Article 353 by Tanguy Viel. It releases March 12, in time to put in your order for a 15 percent “Murder Ink” discount at Maria’s Bookshop or give the library time to get prepared for the wait list. This is a keeper.

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