Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mystery Book Review: The Murdered House by Pierre Magnan

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of The Murdered House by Pierre Magnan. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

The Murdered House by Pierre Magnan

by
A Seraphin Monge Mystery

St. Martin's Minotaur (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-312-36720-1 (0312367201)
ISBN-13: 978-0-312-36720-6 (9780312367206)
Publication Date: November 2009
List Price: $24.99

Review: The Murdered House, written by Pierre Magnan in 1984 and winner of France's Best Novel of the Year Award that year, received an English translation 1999. Minotaur Books is now re-releasing the translated book as a hardcover.

Seraphin Monge was just 18 days old when his parents, brothers, and grandfather were brutally murdered. Raised in orphanages, he returns to his ancestral home in Provence 23 years later and is told that his family's killers were soon identified and subsequently executed. But torn by visions of death around him, he begins to dismantle the house he was born in, discovering a box with a large number of gold coins hidden within its walls. He then learns that the wrong men were accused of his family's murders, that the real killers are still alive. Believing the motive behind the murders is connected to the hidden gold, Seraphin is determined to mete out justice at last.

Translated novels can sometimes be difficult to review from a stylistic perspective; one never knows how much of the translation is literal and how much interpretative. And something here seems to be lost in translation, as it were. Despite an atmospheric and moody setting, the narrative, especially when Seraphin is present, feels rather flat, generating little suspense. Early in the book, for example, Seraphin goes about the destruction of his house in a methodical manner, robotic and indifferent, a man striking back the only way he knows how at those who killed his family but not really feeling any joy or sorrow from his acts. Even when he discovers the gold and realizes his family's killers are alive, he's oddly emotionless. Whether this is the author's intent or not is unknown. The house, named La Burliere and referred to as if a character in the story, is often a stronger presence than Seraphin, as illustrated by the following passage: "Life was ebbing away from the building with every stone that hit the ground and every piece of lime that quietly disintegrated. Its lamentation could be heard in the voice of the tall holly-oaks moaning in the wind."

The plot becomes more animated during the second half of the book but also seems less original, more derivative. Still, The Murdered House is an interesting novel overall, and one worth experiencing.

Special thanks to St. Martin's Minotaur for providing a copy of The Murdered House for this review.

Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): At the turn of the century in Upper Provence, a family is violently massacred. The sole survivor of the tragedy is a three-week-old baby.

Twenty years later, the orphaned survivor returns home to avenge his family’s killers. But for each murder he plots, another hand silently executes it in his place. He wins the hearts of two women, Marie and rose, and romantic complications ensue. But then unexpected secrets set in motion a dreadful unveiling of the past ...

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