This is my review of L’Eté Meurtrier by Sébastien Japrisot.
In this complex, slow-burn psychological thriller, when gorgeous, provocative and probably mentally unstable Eliane sets her cap at decent young car mechanic and part-time fireman "Ping-Pong", you know it will not end well. As the viewpoint switches, mainly between these two characters, Eliane's motives are revealed, the desire for vengeance over a past wrong, but this is a tale of misunderstandings, twists and fateful coincidences which do not fall into place until the final pages.
I agree with reviewers who have found this excellent, although it may take a while for you to appreciate its cleverness – many of the apparently irrelevant fine details prove significant in the end. Apart from building up the tension to a point when you cannot put the book down, Japrisot contrives to create sympathy for all the characters, and to present a vivid picture of life in a small French town where people know each other's business, filling doorsteps and windows along the way to watch Eliane and Ping-Pong as they set off for their first date. The main characters are strongly drawn, with realistic, changing emotions and reactions, in, for instance, Eliane's relationships with Ping-Pong and his two very different brothers. The one weak link for me is Eliane's former school mistress whom I found unconvincing. There is also humour, as in Eliane's continual exaggerated references to time to show her youthful impatience – "I waited a thousand years for him to answer" etc.
It's true there may be a pattern in Japrisot's characters: working class men prone to violence, neurotic young women who play on their sexuality and so on, but he was a past master of the twisty thriller that lends itself to film-making.
If you are not French, this may prove hard going because of the idioms, but it is worth the effort for the sense of suspense, the plot twists and the atmosphere of small town life near Grasse and Digne, where forest fires rage in the distance during intolerably dry summers, and the main source of interest is the Tour de France.