by Philippe Claudel
Some books end when you finish the last line; Philippe Claudel's award-winning Grey Souls sticks around a lot longer. The storyline centres on a policeman who, 20 years after a criminal case is closed, revisits the murder because it won't let him rest. His concern is that, in the rush to find the guilty after the body of an angelic 10-year-old girl was fished from a dirty canal, the wrong conclusions were drawn. Set in France during the second world war, the story relies as much on whodunit-style plotting as evocative language portraying a bleak environment blanketed by a pall of gloom. Three photographs of three females each wearing the same smile are clues to this moving murder-mystery that's been turned into movie. The Independent praised not only Claudel's ability to 'write with a heart-gripping, melancholy beauty', but also the translator, Adriana Hunter, who skilfully rendered the story from French. The Sunday Telegraph was also mesmerised by the book, although adversely affected by its mood. Grey Souls, the reviewer wrote, 'reads at times like one of those gloomy Scandinavian rural fictions in which mud and misery play a major role'.