The nov­el­ist and the mur­derer

Your lat­est high-brow true-crime fix comes in handy book form

Esquire (UK) - - Culture -

The re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of true crime has been some­thing of a miracle. Once the pre­serve of sub­scrip­tion-only “de­tec­tive” mag­a­zines, it’s now a rar­efied art form which you can en­joy with im­punity, know­ing that the earnest jour­nal­ists be­hind it are do­ing the eth­i­cal hand­wring­ing so you don’t have to.

The lat­est hoped-to-be true crime sen­sa­tion is a book by French writer Em­manuel Car­rère. It is called The Ad­ver­sary, an ex­cel­lent ti­tle, not just be­cause, as Car­rère ex­plains, it is an­other name for Satan him­self, but also be­cause it sets up the mu­tu­ally de­pen­dent and morally com­plex re­la­tion­ship that the writer has en­tered into with his sub­ject,

who in this in­stance is Jean-Claude Ro­mand, a French “doc­tor” who mur­dered his wife, chil­dren and par­ents. Car­rère’s book, which was ac­tu­ally pub­lished in 2001 but is be­ing reis­sued to ride the true-crime wave, is more than a mere shock-fest, turn­ing in­stead into a grip­ping char­ac­ter study of Ro­mand, a man whose no­tion of “truth” led him down this most dev­as­tat­ing path.

Is it wrong to fo­cus on the psy­chol­ogy of the mur­derer, not the vic­tims? Is the au­thor en­ter­ing into a pact of his own, through which his clear judg­ment will be ob­scured and per­haps even a strange al­le­giance bloom? In­ter­est­ing ques­tions, yes, and Car­rère is di­rect in tack­ling them. But the book is at its most grip­ping when it re­counts Ro­mand’s crimes in all their hor­ror. For all the writer’s in­ten­tions, and per­haps your own, you can’t look away.

The Ad­ver­sary by Em­manuel Car­rère is out on 6 July (Vin­tage)

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