About the Author
Bernard Besson, who was born in Lyon, France, in 1949, is a former top-level chief of staff of the French intelligence services, an eminent specialist in economic intelligence and Honorary General Controller of the French National Police. He was involved in dismantling Soviet spy rings in France and Western Europe when the USSR fell and has real inside knowledge from his work auditing intelligence services and the police. He has also written a number of prize-winning thrillers, his first in 1998, and several works of nonfiction. He currently lives in the fourteenth arrondissement of Paris.
Julie Rose is a prize-winning, world-renowned translator of major French thinkers, known for, among other works, her acclaimed translation of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, which was published by Random House in 2008.
Read an Excerpt
The Greenland Breach
By Bernard Besson, Julie Rose
Le French BookCopyright © 2011 Odile Jacob
All rights reserved.
Greenland, the north face of Haffner Bjerg, 6:30 a.m.
Lars Jensen felt the ground tremble beneath the snow. He straightened up and abandoned his position, petrified by what he was seeing to the west, toward Canada. The last phase of global warming had begun just as a big red helicopter flew past from the east. It doubtless belonged to Terre Noire, the Franco-Danish oil-and-gas company that was carrying out geological surveys.
From the rocky slopes of Haffner Bjerg, events were taking an unimaginable turn worthy of Dante. With a sound as ominous as the crack of doom, the Lauge Koch Kyst had begun to tear away from Greenland and plummet into Baffin Bay in the North Atlantic Ocean. A colossal breach a mile and a half deep was opening up in the middle of the island continent. The trench ran for miles, as if an invisible ax had just split the ice cap in two.
Terrified, Lars backed away, forgetting what he had come to the top of the world to do. He'd guessed that his presence on the slopes of Haffner Bjerg had something to do with the death of the Arctic. The advance wired from an anonymous account on the island of Jersey was every bit as incredible as the cataclysm under way.
A mist shot through with rainbows rose from the depths of the last ice age. Behind the iridescent wall, thousands of years of packed ice raked the granite surface and crashed into the sea, stirring up a gigantic tsunami. He pressed his hands to his ears to muffle the howling of Greenland as it began to die.
It took Lars awhile to get a grip. His hands were still shaking as the thunderous impact reached him. It was even more frightening than the earsplitting sound. Greenland was plunging into Baffin Bay. In a few hours, the coasts of Canada and the United States would be flooded. He fell to his knees like a child, overcome by thoughts that had never before crossed his mind. An abyss was opening inside him, and it was just as frightening as the one in front of him. It wasn't until his fitful breathing slowed and his lungs stopped burning that he was able to get back to the tawdry reality of his own situation.
He lay down again on the hardpacked snow. With his eye glued to the sight of his rifle, he found the trail that the dogsled had taken from the Great Wound of the Wild Dog. That's where the team would emerge, heading for Josephine and the automated science base that sounded the great island's sick heart. The Terre Noire geologists were known for their punctuality, but at two thousand euros an hour, he would wait if he had to. Say what you like, the end of the world was good business.
Paris, fourteenth arrondissement, 18 Rue Deparcieux, 11:30 a.m.
John Spencer Larivière put the phone down and shot Victoire a triumphant look. It was an expression she didn't like.
"What's got into you?" Victoire asked.
"North Land's offering me a hundred thousand euros for a mission. I've got a meeting tomorrow with Abraham Harper's wife, Geraldine."
"She'll let me know at the last minute."
"What kind of a job?"
"She didn't say."
"She's obviously going to ask you to investigate their European rivals, Terre Noire, Nicolas Lanier's outfit. I don't like it, John. Don't go looking for trouble. Don't forget you're French. Remember where you come from."
"Still, a hundred thousand euros ..."
Victoire moved closer. Ever since John had set up his own business, he had agonized over not being able to measure up. They were in the red. She rarely saw him smile these days. She slipped her hand into his pants and confirmed what she'd already guessed. "That Canadian woman has an effect on you."
"She does not."
"Come here, you idiot."
They had met working in the government intelligence agency Hubert de Méricourt directed. Victoire and John wanted to have a baby, which was why they had quit together to start Fermatown, their own strategic- and criminal-analysis company. As the daughter of a Cambodian Khmer Rouge survivor and a French diplomat, Victoire bore a heavy legacy. After a spectacular nervous breakdown and a period of uncompromising psychoanalysis, getting pregnant had become her obsession. She wanted a son who would look like his father, a good-looking hunk, five feet eleven, with irresistible blue eyes and the blond mane of a movie star. John was a real man with simple ideas, a gentle giant who could massage her feet while getting his Cambodian and Cantonese hopelessly mixed up.
They left the media room and stepped into the space they called the confessional, where they settled into the welcoming arms of the black sofa. Their clothes soon lay where Fermatown's rare clients sat. John kneaded that supple body yet again and made Victoire's cheeks glow. She opened her eyes wide and encouraged him with her dancer's hips. They grabbed pleasure by the handful as though it were the last time. Or the first.
Putting aside their old wounds and disappointments, they made sweaty love, falling off the sofa and onto the teak floor. Now they were nothing more than two balls of rage. Watching as though he were outside himself, John pinned her delicate wrists to the floor and prepared his assault. Wildly, he thrust faster and faster, and, when the moment came, he grunted like an animal, shooting into this flesh that was torn, as he was, between two continents and two histories.
Out of breath, they slid next to each other. And then, holding hands and looking up at the ceiling, they started bickering again.
"With a hundred thousand euros, we could redo the kitchen and get new cars."
"A hundred thousand euros and a bullet in the head. Don't go there, John."
"I'll send Luc to Le Havre. That's where Terre Noire has its lab. I saw something on television. They sent one of their ships to inspect the lava that spewed into the ocean the last time Eyjafjallajökull erupted in Iceland. It wouldn't hurt to find out more."
"This is way beyond us. Everything about the North Pole reeks of ashes and disaster."
"I want to go there."
"You just want to prove to yourself that you can still stick your neck out and act like an idiot. You're worried about what your former colleagues think-all those people we wanted to get away from."
"I'm sick of sitting around reading CVs all day. I didn't start Fermatown to fact-check biographies and trawl through social networks looking for witnesses."
"Typical man. Too proud to ask the agency to pay us an hourly rate."
"You're starting to annoy me!"
John bounded to his feet and ran upstairs to the bathroom. Victoire was right, and that put him in a foul mood. Ever since Afghanistan, he had failed at everything. He couldn't even get her pregnant. He punched the railing of the staircase to the third floor. He had inherited this rambling four-story duplex and garden from an aunt. The property was situated between the Rue Déparcieux and the Rue Fermat, just outside the village on the Rue Daguerre.
This poisoned chalice of a gift had won Victoire over and tipped the scales in favor of her decision to leave the agency. John's aunt, Alicia Spencer, had been an eccentric American sculptor who had split her time between Montparnasse in Paris and Princeton, New Jersey. She had filled the lawns of Princeton with her creations, melted down and molded in the kiln that took up a whole room on the first floor. John had barely known her, but his aunt's presence could be felt on all four floors of this place, which was also Fermatown's headquarters. Pierre de Fermat, the mathematician who had given his name to the street, had helped baptize the firm John had started, which offered strategic advice and did criminal investigations. Unfortunately, there were a lot more unfinished sculptures and metal-cutting machines within Fermatown's walls than there were meaty investigations and consultations paid in full and on time. The sleepy old house was anxious for clients the same way a taxpayer yearned for a tax break. Victoire was not going to keep him from grabbing their first real job.
The command bridge of the Bouc-Bel-Air, 6:50 a.m.
Le Guévenec went to the screen and peered at it. It had been one disaster after another since they had left Le Havre. Surely this one would be the last. Terre Noire's geostationary satellite was filming the events live. The whole Lauge Koch Kyst crust had broken away from Greenland at 6:31 a.m. and had slid into the ocean, taking the village of Nugssuaq and its two hundred inhabitants with it. The ice had shattered into dozens of floes, each the size of a Paris arrondissement. And all that ice was driving a monstrous wall of water ahead of it.
Filmed from an altitude of twelve thousand feet, the Bouc-Bel-Air looked like a toy sitting in a puddle, but the camera picked up every detail. The two cages holding the bears saved from global warming were perfectly visible, as were the lifeboats and the yellow submersible attached to the rear deck.
The giant wave moved at an alarming speed. White spots in front of it caught the captain's eye. "What's that?"
Despite its powerful engines, the Bouc-Bel-Air could not escape the disaster. The shock wave was moving faster than the ship and would inevitably catch up to it. "How long before impact?" Le Guévenec asked in a controlled voice.
"Five minutes. Maybe six," the first mate replied.
He didn't have a lot of time to decide how they would die. The barometer, which had been stuck on good weather for hours, annoyed him, but he didn't let it show. Every shipwreck hid something incongruous, some overlooked detail nobody cared about.
Le Guévenec stroked his cheeks and thought about Isabelle. It didn't surprise him that he didn't feel anything. He was going to die as he had lived. Stupidly and without hate. Was he capable of feeling anything real? Even death didn't move him. What would he feel in the face of that horror? Was there anything worse than this indifference to everyone and everything? Le Guévenec didn't like himself much, and he wouldn't be sorry to go. Professional decency and a seafarer's exactness were his only reasons for deliberating. He made his decision.
"Port side, all the way!"
The captain of the Bouc-Bel-Air would face the wave head-on. The ship meant for scientific research groaned from top to bottom and in less than three minutes managed to point its bow at its destiny. Le Guévenec brought his binoculars to his eyes and stared death in the face. The mates around him were silent. Each sailor, pupils dilated and lips dry with fear, had his eyes fixed on the horizon. "It" finally appeared. Right in front of them.
"My God ..."
An ocean above the ocean was hurtling toward them. Sharp crests like the peaks of the Alps shook convulsively between roiling chasms. The mass was driving mountains of ice. The monumental icebergs created by the cataclysm crashed against each other ahead of the massive wall of water.
The men on the bridge followed their captain's lead and attached their safety belts to the metal rails. An immense white pyramid, jagged with deadly edges, sailed past a few yards away on the port side before disappearing.
Day turned to night. The wail of the wounded ocean filled the crew with terror. The ship plunged bow-first into the valley of water that separated it from hell and kept going down. Then it steadied and straightened with an ominous sluggishness. Straight ahead, less than five hundred yards away, an enormous wave came at them like a combine harvester bearing down on a single stalk of wheat.
Terror set their bodies on fire and distorted their faces. The huge thing filled the world. It seemed to pick up speed. The water blew the windows and doors out and tore up everything that wasn't welded to the deck. Le Guévenec stopped thinking and felt himself swept away, with the boat attached to his belt, in a gigantic whirlpool of icy black mud. The descent into the underworld took a long time. The roiling water shook his body and made his limbs useless. He was nothing more than a dislocated thing at the bottom of an ice-cold vat.
Death tasted of salt. Standard for a seaman. But it wasn't exactly what he had imagined. Why all the dull, metallic sounds? Le Guévenec felt something move beneath him and found himself lying on the bridge of the Bouc-Bel-Air, chucking his guts up like a tuna on the deck of a trawler. The sea was full of debris and flowed around him like lava. He dragged himself toward the bulkhead, his hands gripping the safety rails, and managed to pull himself up.
The vessel had survived, but it was a mere shell of its former self. The barometer, still indicating good weather, was the only thing that seemed to be intact. The darkness suddenly lifted, and a blinding light lit up the heap of ruins. Le Guévenec could see the first mate's bare feet sticking out from under a gangway. The door was gone. The officer was no longer moving. Le Guévenec shook one of his legs and then examined himself. He was all there. The Bouc-BelAir was pitching on a calm sea. He snapped open the ring that held him to the rail and crawled toward the bare feet.
The first mate's head had hit the side of the gangway. Blood was running from his half-open mouth. No hope. Le Guévenec got up and started taking his clothes off. There was no one else on the bridge. The others had been swept away. His survival depended on finding dry clothes in the cabinet above his bed, and fast. He went downstairs to the lower deck. Dread took over, when, half-naked, he opened the door to his cabin.
Still in shock, he didn't immediately comprehend the drama that rushed at him. The boatswain was there, holding his severed forearm, which was oozing blood. Le Guévenec recognized the watch. He had seen it on the Spaniard's arm when he'd caught him trying to hide a box in the hold.
The boatswain, whose hair had suddenly gone white, stared at him in a way that no one had ever stared at him before. His inhuman cry matched that of the polar bear that had gotten out of its cage and hunted the man down. Le Guévenec was just in time to see the bear disappear, a big red stain on its fur. He grabbed the mutilated man, pulled him farther into the cabin, and locked the door.
He seized a cloth and handed it to the victim. Blood was spurting fitfully from the open wound. The pale white bone stuck out like a leek from the torn flesh. It took some cajoling to persuade the seaman to let go of his detached forearm and put it on the sink.
Le Guévenec removed his belt and tried to tie a tourniquet around the severed arm. But then, in the bathroom mirror, he saw the wounded man's back, and he almost vomited. The bear had literally boned the poor bastard, whose pink lungs looked like delicate sponges, still breathing on either side of his exposed spine, until they slowed and stopped. Le Guévenec passed his hand over the dying man's forehead, the same man who had betrayed his trust. "Everything's going to be all right."
He laid his body on the floor of the cabin and closed his eyes. Then he took out his cell phone. After several seconds, he reached Terre Noire's headquarters on the Champs-Èlysée and spoke with the chairman's personal secretary. "This is Le Guévenec, the captain of the Bouc-Bel-Air."
"You're still alive?"
"Tell Monsieur Lanier we're in distress."
"We're sending you help from Nuuk. Who's screaming like that?"
"How are Romain Brissac and the other scientists?"
"I'm going down now. There might be other survivors."
"What about the ice cores?"
"I'll worry about them later."
Excerpted from The Greenland Breach by Bernard Besson, Julie Rose. Copyright © 2011 Odile Jacob. Excerpted by permission of Le French Book.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
""Today, one of the key battlegrounds is business, and both countries and multinational corporations are fighting for key strategic knowledge they hope to be the first to use. In my novel The Greenland Breach, my heroes are little-known actors in this economic war for the future. Those with the best information will win the battle. The blood splattered on the ice sheets of Greenland belongs to shadow fighters, mercenaries in battles we don’t learn about on the evening news."" --Bernard Besson
Translator's comments: “I’m a thriller addict. This is one I couldn’t put down. It’s stylish and fast-paced, with beautifully orchestrated action– ike a sophisticated manga–and it’s written by a man who knows exactly what he’s doing. Bernard Besson worked at the top in French intelligence and with the police; he knows the milieu, he’s very convincing. And his tale of environmental catastrophe feels truly timely. The images of the collapse of Greenland as the icecap melts are stunning and stay with you, every bit as much as the finely-tuned intrigue of industrial espionage. They’re up there, wreaking havoc!” --Julie Rose
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Engaging Cataclysmic End of World Political Thriller I received a complimentary copy of this book as a part of a book tour from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. I rated it 4 out of 5 Stars. Focusing on events leading to the end of the world as we know it, Bernard Besson’s The Greenland Breach is a well written corporate/political espionage thriller. Told from multiple points of view, and taking place in multiple settings, Mr. Besson’s characters are well developed and engaging. Good dialogue and an interesting mystery kept me turning the pages to discover what was going to happen next. When partners and lovers, John Spencer Larivière and Victoire Augagneur, are offered a large sum of money for a “freelance job” by the CEO of Northland, an oil and gas company, they can’t agree on whether or not they should take the job. While John stresses the need their small consulting firm, Fermatown, has for both cash and clients, Victoire suspects their job may involve more than just “babysitting” the CEO’s daughter. After accepting the job, they are then asked to “obtain” information on what Northland’s rival, French company Terre Noire, has aboard their ship, the Bouc-Bel-Air. Soon John, Victoire and Luc, Fermatown’s computer specialist, find themselves in the middle of a global conspiracy while the world’s shifting climate begins to tear everything apart. While slowly paced through the opening chapters, Mr. Besson’s story picks up the pace as the events taking place in both Greenland and the rest of the world heat up. John, Victoire and Luc soon find themselves neck deep in danger, with John facing the most danger when he heads to Greenland to try to get to the truth. While a silent villain, it’s clear that corporate greed, man’s lack of concern over the environment, and progress itself have brought everything to a cataclysmic point. Will John be able to outsmart and outmaneuver the agents hired by their competition? Will Victoire and Luc be able to provide John with backup when he needs it? And what will happen to us all when two rival companies are determined to decide the world’s fate based on what they discover in the deepest ice from Greenland? You’ll have to read The Greenland Breach to find out. I enjoyed it and look forward to reading more of Mr. Besson’s work.
This book is the first ecological thriller I have ever come across, but there is little moralising or preaching here. The author has a knack for taking topical issues and making exciting, highly complex adventures out of them. Global warming is but one of the culprits in this story: corporate and personal greed, national pride, inflated egos and lack of concern for the future of humanity are all equally to blame. The plot is complex, with so many strands combining and so many instances of double-crossing that it is difficult to know whom to trust. Even the three main investigators at Fermatown come in ambiguous shades of grey at times. This makes them more nuanced and less obviously heroic than the main protagonists of many international thrillers. They are prone to appalling lack of judgement and rash decisions at times, which I attribute to their character flaws, but which the author may have done to move the plot forward. Their knowledge of the latest technology is unparalleled, but they are sometimes less discerning when it comes to people. This not just about spying and international conspiracies, however As readers, we also witness moral dilemmas and real murders, with victims about whom we have started to care. My favourite character is the captain of the vessel stranded in Greenland, Loïc Le Guévenec, a simple man forced into bravery, when all he dreams of is to retire with his wife to a little house on the coast of Brittany. The prose is taut and fast-paced, as befits a thriller, and you can tell that Monsieur Besson really knows his stuff. Yet it has more poetry to it than some American thrillers I have recently read. The beauty and severity of Greenland is lovingly described, as is the community feel of the Montparnasse district in Paris, where the Fermatown posse work and live.
When I was a teen in France, it was fairly common to hear about Bernard Besson, a top-level chief of staff of the French intelligence services. I was totally thrilled when I discovered he was also a writer, and that his spy thriller The Greenland Breach had just been translated in English! With that type of career background, I could imagine how good his thriller would be. And indeed it is! I believe actually only someone with that sort of stature could have written such a complex and intricate thriller. I treat spy thrillers as historical novels, in the sense that I start reading with a pen and a paper to write down all the names, trying to put them in different camps, the good, the bad, who is friend/enemy with, etc. You definitely need to do this with this thriller, as you meet many characters, in different milieus. And when you think you know who is with whom, well, something happens and you need to reconsider; actually it may take you the whole book to figure it all out, and that’s the beauty of spy stories. If it’s too easy to guess, what fun is that! The book starts with a mysterious Lars Jensen in a very disturbing scene in Greenland: the global warming has gradually so much hurt the planet that it seems to be going through its last pangs, as the Arctic ice caps are breaking up. Then you are quickly sent to Paris, where you meet John Spencer Larivière: he just received an unknown mission, but sure to bring him a very nice amount of money. And finally you find yourself in the company of Le Guévenec on his boat the Bouc-Bel-Air, between Le Havre, France, and Greenland, surrounded by icebergs. Little by little, you discover big companies behind these people, companies that could be ready to do anything to secure the few reminding natural resources on earth. And it gets more and more nasty, more and more mysterious and intriguing, and you can’t just stop reading, until you discover the truth of what’s really going between a few super powers. It was fascinating to read a story set on the background of global warming and cyber conflicts, with all the ugly intrigues and fights such a situation could easily lead to in a not too distant future. I really liked the descriptions of the characters, the almost innocent ones caught in something so much bigger than they could ever expect, the mean ones, the women – yes, there are a few tough ones in here. I also enjoyed Luc, the internet geek and pirate, who is really good and creative at what he is doing! I really enjoyed how the story broadened up and staged countries in death and survival situations, including the Inuits. The whole plot is really breath taking in its width and astute intricacy. And the descriptions of the landscape are incredible: they are really apocalyptic like in several examples, and so beautiful at the same time, on the ice and in the sea. I felt there, caught in fear and ecstatic beauty in the same minute. If you feel bored in your little corner of the Earth and are eager for adventure, read this smart book now! And I hope Le French Book will translate more books by Bernard Besson!
This novel draws you in at page one. As the amount of characters increase the pace of the book picks up, it is at times a little hard to follow , but once the pieces start to fall into place the story starts to come together. The plot is well written and the characters could be a little more realistic. I am sure this author's previous job as a high ranked chief of intelligence in France helped him with some of the industrial espionage and politics. *** I received this book in return for an honest review***
Smart! That is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of "The Greenland Breach" by Bernard Besson. I loved it from page one! The first pages are interesting and the story does not take long before I became interested in what was happening and what could happen. I also love the theme! I can't think of a more hot topic right now than global warming. The writing was engaging, fast-paced, informative and entertaining! I think this book is a must-read for anyone that likes smart books that are also entertaining. The characters were interesting and the storyline well thought out and well-paced! Great read! I definitely recommend and it and I enjoyed it!
Eco-terrorism, murder, corporate espionage, and politics all blend together in "Greenland Breach". Private investigators, John, Victorie, and Luc of Fermatown are contracted to do an investigation that is multi-layered and unclear. While the story does get off to a slow start, the characters are entertaining and engaging. The concept has potential realistic scare to it. Once the narrative takes off, particularly in the second half, the mystery and action are quite gripping. Overall, an interesting read.
Barely kept my interest, I guess the Frencies are still very pleased with themselves...
When has such a glittering shell of a novel been so crushed by the clutter of plots, characters and geography as this one? I found myself feeling like John in the scrambling for freedom in the ice as I tried to keep track of who was doing what to whom, at whose direction and for the benefit of whom. And do all French authors define their work in terms of endless and repetitive cites of street addresses? I twice started to abandon ship, but I was just enough caugh up in the premise, however ill-served by the novelist, to carry on. I wish I had taken my own advice. ced
Oh my. (Or maybe I should say ‘Ooh, la la’, since this is a book by a Frenchman? No. Too cliche, I think.) THE GREENLAND BREACH is the latest thriller out from digital-first publisher Le French Book, and it’s a doozy. The world is gripped in dramatic climate change as the Arctic ice caps are breaking up, threatening Europe and the East coast of the United States and Canada with a tidal wave that will drown their cities. Greenland is splitting apart, the ice is melting, and an environmental catastrophe is the catalyst for international rivalries and espionage as geological research firms and scientists barter and bicker with governments and economic development corporations. We start in on the action immediately with a gruesome murder, and a ship, the French vessel belonging to Terre Noire desperately trying to escape destruction during a massive tsunami. The damaged ship is a linchpin in the narrative, and its claustrophobic and dangerous atmosphere kept me holding my breath with each plot twist. When we meet John Spencer Larivière, the head of a small spy organization called Fermatown and a former French intelligence officer, we’re already wondering what he’ll be thrown into, given the state of the world. He accepts a contract to look after the headstrong daughter of a Canadian-based corporation, North Land, and ends up in Greenland, his organization embroiled in a double-crossing game of espionage where nothing is certain. By halfway through the book, I was utterly enthralled, and I read as fast as I was able, anxious to follow the twists and turns of the plot, and figure out just who was behind the chaos and destruction. The ending did not disappoint (and that’s all I’m going to say about that, because I would hate to inadvertently spoil the book for someone!) I wasn’t familiar with Bernard Besson prior to reading THE GREENLAND BREACH, but now that I have, I’m going to be crossing my fingers and looking for translations of his other work. And if there aren’t any, then I know I’ll be writing to Le French Book to beg them to translate another!
This is not the first book I read from this publisher and once again it took me for a great ride. I love the fact that books follow the changes of the world and this one does exactly that by building a great spy story on top of an alarming global warming setting that feels even scarier since it's all way too believable. It intertwines spies and big companies from a over the world fighting to lead the next phase of human development. Wow, I couldn't put it down, travelling from France to the Arctic, out of breath as I was trying to keep up with the action. Fully recommended.