The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau  – ★★★★★
Graeme Macrae Burnet is a Scottish author best known for his Man Booker Prize nominated novel His Bloody Project . The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau is his debut novel written in a style of a French mystery novel and film noir. Dark and intriguing, the novel tells the story of thirty-six-year old Manfred Baumann, a reclusive, lonely and socially awkward bank worker who spends his evenings in the local Restaurant de la Cloche, Saint-Louis, France. When one attractive waitress of the restaurant – Adèle Bedeau – disappears after a night-out, Detective Georges Gorski’s suspicions soon fall on Manfred Baumann and one unsolved past criminal case regains its spotlight. The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau is written in that nostalgic style of old French mystery novels, echoing the works of Georges Simenon (Burnet’s favourite book is Simenon’s The Little Man from Archangel ) or existential literature, such as Ernesto Sabato’s El Tunel . The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau is an impressive, understated literary mystery with many subtle elements, convincing psychological character study, and one atmospheric setting.
The novel draws you in from the very start. It has a strong sense of place, and it is impossible not to be drawn immediately into the affairs of one unremarkable little town in France. In that way, The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau has all the intriguing elements of a cosy detective mystery set in a small town where there are few inhabitants, and, therefore – few suspects. Burnet begins his debut book with these lines: “It was an evening like any other at the Restaurant de la Cloche. Behind the counter, the proprietor, Pasteur, had poured himself a pastis, an indication that no more meals would be served and that any further service would be provided by his wife, Marie, and the waitress, Adèle. It was nine o’clock” [Graeme Macrae Burnet, 2014: 1]. The transportive, atmospheric elements do not end there, and, as we start to follow our main character, Manfred Baumann, a lonely man of habit who is used to taking his evening meals at one particular restaurant, we also get to know more about the town’s quaint setting and features: “Saint-Louis is a town of around twenty thousand people nesting at the very edge of the Alsace, separated from Germany and Switzerland by the width of the Rhine. It is a place of little note…Like most border towns, it is a place of transit. People pass through on their way elsewhere, and the town is so lacking in points of interest it is as if the townsfolk have resigned themselves to this…” [Graeme Macrae Burnet, 2014: 10].
When hard-working but taciturn waitress Adèle Bedeau does not appear one morning for her shift at the Restaurant de la Cloche, concerns begin to mount, and suspicions soon fall on Manfred Baumann. Unlike some other debut novels or mystery thrillers, The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau never loses its fascination, excitement or mystery streak. In Manfred Bauman, we uncover a complex psychological character study which gets us intrigued until the last pages, and the mystery of Adèle Bedeau’s disappearance only deepens as we read on. When Detective Georges Gorski comes to the scene, we are presented with yet another interesting character. Gorski is nosy and conscientious – he only wants to do his job properly, and that means retracing the final steps of Adèle Bedeau and interviewing all the men who came into contact with Adèle prior to her disappearance. What emerges is a well-thought-out detective story at the centre of which is one hidden obsession and infatuation on the part of one voyeuristic character who is prone to fantasy and make-belief. However, even that story would not have been half as good if Graeme Macrae Burnet were too obvious about his intentions and expressions in his book. One of the great things about The Disappearance of Adèle is that it is written with subtlety and nuance that can really only to be found in some French novels of the past. At times the writing does not say much, but it implies, suggests and hints, and that is where all the class, and pleasure and fun of reading (and hence discovering) lie.
I may be too generous with my rating for this book, but The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau really is the perfect mystery novel for me. Understated and slow-burning, it portrays vividly one small French town and its restaurant which got plagued by one eerie disappearance, hinting at one despicable crime. Psychological, nuanced, atmospheric and stylish, this mystery novel will keep you guessing until the very end.