In a series of intricate and explicitly unpleasant plot reversals and psychological sleight of hand, DTOTL explores the twisted sinews of jealousy, manipulation and possession at their most extreme. Is it possible to degrade the self-esteem of a confidant young woman to the point where, hopeless, isolated and despairing, she might end her own life? Would it be possible to do that over and again, brutalising the human psyche to the point of ultimate submission?
I almost quit on this book after the first quarter or so, tiring of the terribly fashionable on-the-zeitgeist stalking of a supposedly intelligent and capable woman. It’s been done so often lately: not just The Archers, but half a dozen novels in the last six months alone. Too often it simply doesn’t ring true, when ‘girl du jour’ deletes the evidence, takes refuge in booze and pills, and does a hundred nonsensical things which put her increasingly at risk. In this book, the persecuted woman somehow goes back to sleep while her pet dog bleeds all over the bed with a broken leg… because there’s no emergency vet service in Toulouse, maybe? That almost ended the book for me, but I persevered.
And I’m delighted that I did, because shortly thereafter the plot developed in several different and delightfully unexpected directions. Author Bernard Minier skilfully plays with our expectations, casting doubts and red herrings in every direction, and imbuing his seemingly minor characters with all manner of ambiguity. What looks like a clear-cut stalker story soon becomes a complex exploration of human motivation and relationships, where the women are just as culpable as the men. How many of us are guilty of manipulation for the sake of love? How well do we know our friends and colleagues? What lies do we tell ourselves?
Paradoxically, although I wasn’t wildly engaged by the specific criminal subject of this story, the author overcame my dislike of the plot to thoroughly involve me in the life of his investigator. Commandant Martin Servaz is complex mess; traumatised and aware of his emotional vulnerability and cognitive disabilities, yet intelligent and resolute. We don’t see a great deal of Servaz in this book but it was more than enough to send me scurrying off to Amazon to download the earlier two episodes, to understand how his previous opponent so successfully delivered such massive psychological scars.
Thought provoking, challenging and intense.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Don’t Turn Out The Lights by Bernard Minier is available in ebook and paperback