Alex (Commandant Camille Verhoeven Trilogy #2) available in Paperback
Alex Prevost--kidnapped, savagely beaten, suspended from the ceiling of an abandoned warehouse in a tiny wooden cage--is running out of time. Her abductor appears to want only to watch her die. Will hunger, thirst, or the rats get her first?
Apart from a shaky eyewitness report of the abduction, Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven has nothing to go on: no suspect, no leads, and no family or friends anxious to find a missing loved one. The diminutive and brilliant detective knows from bitter experience the urgency of finding the missing woman as quickly as possible--but first he must understand more about her.
As he uncovers the details of the young woman's singular history, Camille is forced to acknowledge that the person he seeks is no ordinary victim. She is beautiful, yes, but also extremely tough and resourceful. Before long, saving Alex's life will be the least of Commandant Verhoeven's considerable challenges.
A 2013 Financial Times Book of the Year
Shortlisted for the 2014 RUSA Reading List Horror Award
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Frank Wynne has translated works by Michel Houellebecq, Boualem Sansal, and many more. He won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2005 for his translation of Frederic Beigbeder's Windows on the World.
From the Hardcover edition.
Read an Excerpt
Her life is a series of frozen images, a spool of film that has snapped in the projector—it is impossible for her to rewind, to refashion her story, to find new words. The next time she has dinner here, she might stay a little later, and he might be waiting for her outside when she leaves—who knows? Alex knows. Alex knows all too well how these things go. It’s always the same story. Her fleeting encounters with men never become love stories; this is a part of the film she’s seen many times, a part she remembers. That’s just the way it is.
It is completely dark now and the night is warm. A bus has just pulled up. She quickens her step, the driver sees her in the rearview mirror and waits. She runs for the bus but, just as she’s about to get on, changes her mind, decides to walk a little way. She signals to the driver, who gives a regretful shrug, as if to say Oh well, such is life. He opens the bus door anyway.
“There won’t be another bus after me. I’m the last one tonight . . .”
Alex smiles, thanks him with a wave. It doesn’t matter. She’ll walk the rest of the way. She’ll take the rue Falguière and then the rue Labrouste.
She’s been living near the Porte de Vanves for three months now. She moves around a lot. Before this, she lived near Porte de Clignancourt and before that on the rue du Commerce. Most people hate moving, but for Alex it’s a need. She loves it. Maybe because, as with the wigs, it feels like she’s changing her life. It’s a recurring theme. One day she’ll change her life.
A little way in front of her, a white van pulls onto the pavement to park. To get past, Alex has to squeeze between the van and the building. She senses a presence, a man; she has no time to turn. A fist slams between her shoulder blades, leaving her breathless. She loses her balance, topples forward, her forehead banging violently against the van with a dull clang; she drops everything she’s carrying, her hands flailing desperately to find something to catch hold of—they find nothing.
Reading Group Guide
With hairpin plot twists, characters deep enough to confound a psychoanalyst, and an intense yet tasteful dose of heart-stopping violence, Alex by Pierre Lemaitre is an unforgettable experience that leaves readers with as many tantalizing questions as satisfying answers.
1. What are some of the narrative and descriptive techniques Pierre Lemaitre uses to create effective plot twists?
2. Does Commandant Verhoeven’s torment over the kidnapping and murder of his wife help or hinder his abilities to solve the case at the center of the novel? Does it seem that he believes he can find some measure of closure over Irene’s murder if he can solve this case?
3. At the end of the novel, do you believe the conclusion Verhoeven has reached about Alex’s motivations is accurate? Is Vasseur guilty? (If so, of what?) What might Verhoeven have—intentionally or not—overlooked?
4. After finishing, review the first chapter describing Alex’s “normal” day-to-day existence.
5. What clues does Lemaitre provide here that hint at what lies below the surface?
6. Is Alex a sympathetic character? Which of her actions can you justify or even relate to, and which do you find objectively repulsive?
7. Do you think Alex’s fear and acceptance of death is genuine when she is in captivity, or does it seem as though she is seeing several moves ahead, like a calculating chessmaster?
8. What is the significance to the novel of Maud Verhoeven, Commandant Verhoeven’s late mother who was a renowned painter? How does her “ghost”—as represented in her paintings and his memories—affect how he goes about his life and work?
9. Discuss the scene with Alex and Bobby, the devoutly religious truck driver. What do we learn about Alex’s attitudes towards God, spirituality and the afterlife? How do these attitudes manifest in her actions throughout the novel?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The best book I have read in a long time.
Brilliant whydunnit. What’s going on with Alex and mostly why? Who is she, what’s her past? If you are ready to see humanity in the horrific mask it sometimes wear, follow police commandant Camille along suspenseful twists and turns to uncover the multiple layers of this tragic life. You won’t put the book down before its last page. I recently presented to you Irène, so this is the sequel: Alex. Very good too, it will keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s definitely not your usual crime fiction. Pierre Lemaitre manages again to orchestrate a complex crime novel rich with many layers. The book opens with Alex. She’s an agency nurse, in her thirties, but still very pretty, though rather insecure and full of self-doubt. As she is trying wigs in a shop, she realizes with fear that a man seems to be following her. Thinking he finally left, she gets out of the store, to be actually abducted later on by that very man. From then on, the plot thickens. Be ready for a crazy ride, with turns and twists you won’t see coming. Be prepared also for awful scenes both at the beginning at the book and really all along, both physically and psychologically speaking. For indeed this is an important layer that Lemaitre uses here. And as the synopsis highlights, it’s actually more a whydunnit than a whodunnit, that will lead you from one track to the next until finally you get it, unless it keeps you still wandering once you turn the last page. The whole crime setting is also set on the background of Camille’s grieving over the death of his wife and mother, another interesting layer, that makes him first take the case very reluctantly, but then makes him extremely and personally involved, as if desperately trying to save a young woman would redeem what happened to his own wife four years earlier. Because of that, he is more edgy than in the first book, more fragile, more extreme, but still always so astute, seeing beyond what other protagonists would quickly judge as a closed case. No, Camille always wants to understand why. I also liked the layer of his friendly relationship with the guys of his team. As for the construction of the book, the suspense going back and forth between Alex and Camille pushes to the limit of suspense you can bear. And the ending is just brilliant, with the question of choice between truth or justice.Lemaitre shows a fascinating if not horrific facet of human resilience and complexity, but telling you more would reveal too much. You will just have to read it, but be sure to read Irène first. I actually found Irène even more brilliant, because of the extra layer of literary construction going with it.