The novelist and the murderer
Your latest high-brow true-crime fix comes in handy book form
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)