From the bestselling author of After the Crash, “a novel so extraordinary it reminded me of reading Stieg Larsson for the first time” (The Sunday Times).
Holidaying in an idyllic resort on the island of Réunion, wealthy Parisians Martial and Liane Bellion are enjoying the perfect family moment with their six-year-old daughter. Turquoise skies, clear water, palm trees, a warm breeze.
Then Liane Bellion disappears from her hotel room. The door to her room is open, the walls and sheets are spotted with blood. A hotel employee swears he saw Martial in the corridor at the time Liane went missing, and he becomes the number one suspect. But then Martial also disappears, along with his daughter. An all-out manhunt is declared across the island.
Could Martial really have killed his wife? For fans of Gone Girl and The Fugitive, Bussi’s fast-paced, atmospheric thriller does not disappoint.
“A nail biter of a manhunt across the spectacular terrain of the Indian Ocean island of Réunion drives this thriller after a tourist goes missing, triggering a police chase and exposing a cannily-constructed mystery with nods to both Agatha Christie and Harlan Coben.” The Boston Globe
“Suspenseful . . . vengeance proves a common passion on Réunion, as detailed in this twist-filled novel told from several characters’ perspectives.” The Wall Street Journal
“This novel, a multi-charactered French whodunit, squeezes all its frantic action into the 25 square miles of gorgeous but treacherous Réunion Island.” Toronto Star
“A top-notch puzzle . . . A wonderfully immersive thriller.” Booklist
|Publisher:||Europa Editions, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Michel Bussi is a professor of geopolitics and one of France’s bestselling authors. His novels have been published in 35 different countries. He is also the author of After the Crash (Hachette, 2016) and Black Water Lilies (Hachette, 2017), and Time Is a Killer (Europa, 2018).
Sam Taylor is the translator of HHhH, by Laurent Binet, and the author of the novels The Island at the End of the World, The Amnesiac, and The Republic of Trees. He lives in France and the United States.
Read an Excerpt
A Few Wet Footprints Saint-Gilles-Lesbains, Réunion Island
Friday, March 29, 2013, 3:01 P.M.
I'm just going up to the room for a second." Liane does not wait for a response, she simply tells her daughter and her husband, looking cheerful, radiant, as she moves away from the swimming pool.
Gabin, behind his bar, watches her with professional discretion. This week, Liane is by some distance the most beautiful woman in the Hotel Athena, yet she's not the type of tourist who normally catches his eye. Petite, very slender, almost no breasts, but there's something classy about her, a je ne sais quoi. Maybe it's her skin, still white with a bouquet of freckles starting to show on her lower back, just above her emerald and gold bikini bottoms. Or that sweet little rear, swaying gently as she walks, like green fruit in a treetop rocked by the wind. The woman walks barefoot across the lawn, seemingly without bending a single blade of grass. Gabin watches her go past the deckchairs until she reaches the patio, half hidden by a skinny palm tree. The last thing he saw — as he will tell Captain Purvi — was the woman discreetly removing her bikini top; the fleeting vision of a bare back, a white breast, the hint of a nipple, before she grabbed her large beach towel and wrapped it around her.
Naivo, standing behind his mahogany desk in the reception area, returns Liane's smile as best he can.
"Hello, mademoiselle ..."
She walks across the crowded lobby, passing between a stand displaying postcards and a clothes rail filled with pareos and flowery shirts. Her blonde hair drips onto the towel covering her breasts. Naivo finds this attractive: those strapless shoulders, white, unmarked. The woman walks slowly, careful not to slip because she's barefoot. This is not normally allowed, but Naivo is not there to upset the tourists. Water still trickles down the woman's legs. A second later, she has disappeared towards the lifts, and all that remains of her is a few puddles. Like Amélie Poulain when she bursts into tears, Naivo suddenly thinks. He doesn't know why. But that is what he will always think, afterwards. For hours, whole nights, tortured by his memories. The fact that the woman vanished into thin air, literally evaporated. But he won't dare tell the police that. It's not the kind of thing they would understand.
The lift swallows Liane. Second floor. It goes up to paradise and opens to a stunning view, displayed through the large picture windows: the south-facing swimming pool and, beyond it, Ermitage Beach. Shaded by casuarina trees, the long golden crescent seems to stretch out forever, nibbled by the timid waves of the lagoon, which are calmed by the distant coral reef.
"Watch out, it's wet!" Eve-Marie shouts at the lift, before she even knows who is going to step out.
Eve-Marie pulls a face. It's that blonde from number 38. Barefoot, of course. The woman in the towel pretends to be all shy and embarrassed with the junior staff, just the right amount of hypocrisy. She walks on tiptoe, over to the side, a good meter away from the bucket and the mop, apologizing all the while.
"Never mind," grumbles Eve-Marie, clutching her broom. "Go on, I'll do it again once you've passed."
"I'm so sorry, really ..."
Sure you are, Eve-Marie murmurs to herself.
The blonde wiggles her behind as she minces like a ballerina, afraid of slipping on the wet tiles. More like an ice skater than some little ballet dancer, Eve-Marie thinks. A triple axel in eighty-five-degree heat in the tropics, now that would be something! Watched by the cleaning lady, the pretty woman brings one last slide under control and stops in front of her apartment door, number 38. She puts the key in the lock, enters, disappears.
All that remains of her are a few wet footprints on the perfectly clean tiles. And even these are already vanishing, as if the cold tiles have sucked the rest of her in, leaving the feet until last. Like a sort of high-tech quicksand, Eve-Marie thinks. Standing alone in the vast glass-walled corridor, she sighs. She still has to dust the pictures on the walls, watercolors of Les Hauts, Réunion's craggy interior, small islets, the ancient forest; the most beautiful parts of the island where tourists never set foot. With the windows to clean and the corridor to wash, she has enough work to keep her busy all afternoon. Normally, after the siesta, she's left in peace up on her floor. Nobody comes back up; they're all out at the pool or the lagoon. All of them, except for the katish ...
Eve-Marie wonders whether she should bother mopping up the girl's footprints. She'll undoubtedly come back out in a few minutes wearing a new bikini top because she wasn't getting a good enough tan with the other one.CHAPTER 2
Rodin's thing is taming the waves. Using only his eyes.
And, contrary to what the drunks in the port at Saint-Gilles think, it is far from easy. It takes time. Patience. Cunning. It requires focus, a refusal to be distracted — by the sound of that car door slamming behind him, for example. Never look at the ground, always at the horizon.
The ocean is a crazy thing. Once, when he was young, Rodin went to a museum. Well, a sort of museum. In the north of France, near Paris, the house of some old guy who spent most of his day watching the reflection of the sun on the surface of a pond. Not even with waves, just water lilies. And this in a country where it's always cold, where the sky is so low you can almost touch it. It was the only time he ever left the island. It didn't make him want to do it again. In the museum next to the house there were some paintings — landscapes, sunsets, grey skies, a few of the sea. The most impressive ones were a good two meters wide and three meters tall. There was a crowd of people there, women mostly, old women, who seemed able to stand in front of a canvas for hours.
The sound of another car door behind him. Using only his ears, he measures the direction and the distance; the car park by the port, thirty meters from the end of the pier where he sits on his rock. Probably a tourist who thinks he can capture the waves with his camera, like a fisherman who hopes to catch a fish just by standing in the water for a second. Idiots ...
He thinks again about that bearded maniac. When it comes down to it, those painters are just like him really, trying to capture the light, waves, movement. But why burden yourself with canvases and paintbrushes? All you have to do is sit here, by the sea, and look. He is aware that some people on the island think he's mad to spend the whole day just staring at the horizon. But he's no madder than those old women standing in front of their paintings. In fact, he's less mad because he doesn't have to pay for the privilege. This view is free, a gift from the brilliant and generous painter who lives up there.
A muffled cry disturbs the silence behind him. A sort of groan. The tourist must be feeling ill ...
Rodin does not turn around. To understand the sea, to fathom its rhythm, you must remain immobile. Barely even breathing. The waves are like nervous squirrels: one false move and they'll run away ... The girl at the unemployment office asked him what kind of work he was looking for, his aptitudes, his plans, his skills. He told her he knew how to talk to the waves, to recognize and tame them, so to speak. He then asked the girl, quite seriously, what kind of job he could do with that. Something in research, perhaps? Something cultural? People are interested in bizarre things, after all. She had stared at him, wide-eyed, as if she thought he was making fun of her. She was pretty cute; he would have liked to bring her here to the pier and introduce her to the waves. He often does that with his great-nephews. They understand. Well, a bit.
Less and less, though.
The scream explodes behind him. It is not just a groan this time. It's clearly a cry for help.
Rodin turns around. The spell has been broken anyway; it would take him hours to enter into communion again.
His face turns pale.
He glimpses a car, a black 4x4. And a shadow too, stocky, almost wider than he is tall, dressed in a kurta, the person's face concealed by a strange khaki cap. A Malbar, undoubtedly.
Rodin stutters. When he spends too much time with the waves, he has trouble finding his words. It takes him a moment to speak again.
"Excuse m ... I wan ..."
He cannot look away from the knife in the Malbar's hand, the red blade. He makes no move to defend himself. And really, the only thing he would have liked is to have had the time to turn back to the sea and say goodbye to the waves, the light, the horizon. He doesn't care about anything else. But the Malbar doesn't even give him the chance to do that.
Rodin sees the 4x4's open trunk. An arm, half-covered in a sheet, dangling from it. A ...
Everything goes blurred.
One hand grips his shoulder while another stabs the knife into his heart.CHAPTER 3
The Empty Room
The sun hangs above the swimming pool like a huge halogen bulb fastened there for eternity. The neat jungle of palm trees and octopus bushes, cloistered by three high teak walls, protects the enclosed space from even the faintest breath of wind. You can guess at the ocean's presence from the tropicbirds flying above, the cooling influence of the distant trade winds. But in the garden of the Hotel Athena, the heat beats down on the square of lawn and the few tourists escape it by diving into the chlorinated water then lying on the deckchairs lined up in shady corners.
"I'm going to see what Liane's doing."
Martial levers himself up from the pool with his arms. Gabin sees him approaching. Liane's husband isn't bad either, it has to be said, with his muscular legs, his six-pack, his broad shoulders. He looks like a PE teacher, or a fireman, or a soldier, one of those professions where you're paid to spend your days pumping iron. Perfectly tanned too, in contrast to his wife's milky skin. Less than a week they've been here, and already he looks like a Cafre ... The handsome Martial must have a drop of black blood, just the tiniest chromosome from a slave ancestor, a dormant pigment that only needs a bit of sunlight to allow it to percolate through, the way a single drop of Blue Curaçao can color a cocktail.
As the tourist moves towards the bar, Gabin watches the water running down his hairless chest. Martial and Liane Bellion make a beautiful couple, playing at lazing around in the tropics. Sexy and rich. Good for them, thinks Gabin. Winwin. The happiness of wealthy white lovers is fundamental to commerce in destinations that are supposedly paradise.
Their bizness ...
Martial is standing in front of him.
"Gabin, has my wife come back down?"
"No, sorry, I haven't seen her ..."
Gabin glances at the clock behind him. It is exactly an hour since Liane went upstairs. And one thing's for sure: if her sweet little ass had wandered back into his line of vision, he would have remembered. Martial turns around, and walks a few feet towards the bodies splashing around in the pool.
"Margaux, can you look after Sopha? I'm going to see what Liane's doing."
Gabin registers every detail of the scene with a precision he is not, at that moment, aware of. The exact time on the clock. The position of those around him, in the water, sitting on the edge of the pool, or lying back in deckchairs. The police will make him repeat his description ten times, sketching the scene just to be sure. Not once will he contradict himself.
Margaux, swimming lengths in the pool, barely even looks up. Margaux is half of another couple; the wife of Jacques, the lawyer who is sitting reading on his deckchair. Or sleeping.
"You know, Captain Purvi," Gabin will say apologetically, "it's hard to tell when they're wearing sunglasses ..."
Margaux and Jacques Jourdain are a less glamorous couple than Liane and Martial, and at least ten years older. More annoying, too. He spends most of his time on the computer in the lobby, reading his emails, while she just swims from one end of the pool to the other. She swims for kilometers. Given that the pool is twelve meters long, that's a frightening number of lengths. Worse than a tailless tenrec caught under a crate by kids in Les Hauts. The Jourdains are bored shitless, even in the tropics. Gabin doesn't want to imagine what they must be like in Paris ...
Sopha is Liane and Martial's daughter. Well, Sopha is what they call her; her real name is Josapha. In the pool, she whimpers as though she might actually sink, even with those Dora the Explorer water wings around her arms. Gabin spotted the little blonde girl's tyrannical temperament on the very first day, as if the kid had decided her sole duty during this holiday was to ruin it for her parents. She's gifted, or something like that. Barely six years old and already blasé. How many Parisian girls of her age have ever swum in eighty-five-degree water under the shade of casuarina trees, with fluorescent coral and clownfish slipping between their toes?
While Gabin pontificates to himself about this spoiled only child, Martial has slipped into the hotel.
All Naivo can remember seeing is Martial Bellion's back as he stood in front of the lift. He must have been looking elsewhere when Bellion came through the lobby, or was immersed in his accounts. But it was definitely him, no doubt about it. Same swimming trunks, same back, same hair. It won't be easy to explain this to the police, but yes, it is perfectly possible to recognize a man from behind.
"It's all right, go ahead, that bit's O.K. !" Eve-Marie shouts at Martial, who hesitates at the sight of the spotlessly clean tiles. "It's dry!" Through the immaculate windows on the second floor, Martial glances down at the hotel garden. Sopha is sitting at the edge of the pool, alone. Margaux looks up at her every three strokes. Martial sighs, then walks over towards number 38.
He knocks softly on the dark wooden door. He waits. Knocks again. After a few seconds, he turns around and explains to Eve-Marie, who has not said a word:
"My wife has the keys ... I don't think she can hear me. I'm going to ask the guy at reception to open it for me ..."
Eve-Marie shrugs. What does she care? The floor's dry now.
Martial returns a few moments later, flanked by Naivo, who plays Saint Peter with a massive bunch of keys chiming at his wrist. Eve-Marie rolls her eyes. It's like a carnival in her corridor this afternoon! Naivo is a methodical man: the first key he inserts in the lock opens the door to number 38.
Martial goes in. Naivo stands on the threshold, a meter behind him.
The room is empty.
Martial takes another step forward, disoriented.
"I don't understand. Liane should be here ..."
Naivo puts a hand on the door frame. A shiver runs through his arm. Something is wrong here: he sensed it instantly. While Martial scans the room's few recesses, Naivo's eyes fix on every detail. The double bed, with the fuchsia duvet rolled in a ball. The scattered clothes. The cushions and the remote control on the carpet. The white glass vase knocked off the roble-wood shelf. All clues pointing to a violent domestic quarrel.
Or to a passionate fuck between consenting lovers, thinks Naivo, forcing himself to be more positive.
Frantic, Martial opens the bathroom door.
Not in this room, or anywhere else. There is no balcony, no space under the bed in which she could hide, no cupboard with doors that close, only wooden shelving.
Martial sits on the bed, looking devastated, lost. And yet, bizarrely, Naivo does not believe him. He won't really know how to express this to the police, but something in Bellion's reaction does not seem natural. He will simply describe the scene to Captain Purvi, describe this handsome, self-assured, forty-year-old father collapsing like a child when he found the room empty. This playboy in his trunks sitting like a statue on the edge of the bed. Perhaps that was what struck him as surreal in the moment it happened. The contrast ...
The contrast ... and the red stains ...
Sweat pours down Naivo's forehead.
Red stains on the bedsheet.
Naivo stares. A dozen other red stains are spread across the beige carpet, around the bed, near the window, on the curtains. He falls silent. All he can see now is a room splattered with blood.
The moment seems to stretch, though in reality it lasts no more than a few seconds. Martial stands up, silent, and stalks around the room, throwing the clothes from the bed as if searching for an explanation, a note, some kind of clue. Naivo senses Eve-Marie staring over his shoulder. She has walked towards them, cloth in hand so she has an excuse. The cloth is the same turquoise color as the scarf she wears in her hair.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Don't Let Go"
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