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A Death in Paradise

Book Review
Don’t Let Go, by Michel Bussi (Hachette, $37.99)
Reviewed by Wendy Montrose

dontletgo_coverThere are endless reasons for picking up a book by an author we don’t know and it can be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. But it can also lead to disappointment. This book was unfortunately, disappointing. I chose it because I have a particular interest in the setting. Reunion Island, a tropical French outpost in the Indian Ocean is the home of my ancestors. Michel Bussi writes as though he knows Reunion, and he doesn’t seem to like it.

Bussi is a Professor of Geography at the University of Rouen. After overcoming numerous early rejections he has gone on to publish ten detective novels and two non fiction books on political and electoral geography. Don’t Let Go was originally published in French as Don’t Let Go of my Hand and the translation to English is a little clumsy in places as though the translator’s grasp of English was wanting. The odd phrase jars. “Everything goes blurred.” “Laroche is walking around the carpark in his boots…”

The premise of Don’t Let Go also piqued my interest. Martial Bellion, his wife Liane and their six year old daughter Sopha are holidaying on the resort island. When Liane disappears, the police suspect Martial of murdering her. Although there is no body, there is plenty of blood. All the evidence points to Martial and he offers no plausible argument, seeming in fact to accept responsibility for the crime. Then, for no obvious reason, he has a change of heart, grabs his daughter and makes a run for it. The story moves along at pace as we follow the police hunt for the fugitives across the island. Bussi’s descriptions of the island’s physical features paint a vivid picture as Martial and Sopha flee from the coral covered beaches inland to mountainous central heights, over old barren lava flows and through verdant jungle and sugar plantations.

Written in the first person, almost every character has the opportunity to star as narrator, which at times gives too much away to the reader. One moment we hear from Martial, then the barman, the cleaner, the police chief and her dope-smoking off-sider, and even Liane. None of them is particularly likeable or plausible, resembling instead overdrawn cartoon characters or second rate actors trying too hard in a B-movie. The most improbable character of all, though is Sopha. The gifted and thoroughly spoiled six year old just doesn’t ring true; she’s too precocious, too sophisticated, too grown up really. Even Reunion Island is depicted in a negative light. Bussi cynically dwells on the social issues of a disparate population that utterly neutralises the attractions of the Island. It can’t be all bad. It is a popular getaway for French couples after all.

Don’t Let Go isn’t all bad either. There are some skilful descriptions, like the chillingly graphic account of what happens to a corpse in the sea, and I did actually want to find out if Martial had killed his wife. The author’s knowledge of Reunion Island’s history and social climate are impressive but there are too many gaps in the plot and too much implausibility to make it really enjoyable.