From what I can tell, Bernard Minier appears to be one of the premier French writers of mysteries in the last couple of years. His first novel, The FrFrom what I can tell, Bernard Minier appears to be one of the premier French writers of mysteries in the last couple of years. His first novel, The Frozen Dead was a best-seller in France and crossed over into the English language market last year revealing an very intelligent author who doesn't sacrifice thrills and surprises for his complex plotting and distinctly literary style. This year we get the second of his novels featuring French police inspector, Commandant Martin Servaz. As much as I enjoyed the first book, The Circle far surpassed it in pretty much every way possible.
Martin Servaz is thrown into another murder case. This one is at the request of a long ago friend whose son, Hugo, was found drugged and disoriented at his teacher's house. The body of his teacher is found drowned in a tub. Everything points to the boy committing the murder but Servaz is persuaded to investigate by Hugo's mother who Servaz knew when he went to school and shared a troubling relationship. There is also the fact that some of the evidence appears to be linked the incident to a serial killer he has been tracking.
While the murder mystery of the novel is stand-alone from the first novel, much of the story is not. Many of the main characters including the serial killer Julian Hirtmann and the Commandant's troubled but loyal staff are included in this novel and they all come with back stories started in The Frozen Dead. You can read The Circle as a stand-alone but it is best to read The Frozen Dead first. But The Circle is still a stunning work encompassing a large cast of characters, plenty of sub-plots and red herrings, and a ton of psychological angst, especially in the character of Martin Servaz. It doesn't help that he still feels for the mother of the suspected murderer or that his daughter is going to the school where the murder took place or that the killer Hirtmann seems to be leaving messages threatening recontact with either Servaz or someone he cares about. The Circle is as much as a psychological thriller as a detective novel. It is the intricate plotting that makes this work. Once you think you have one character figured out, something else arrives and throw you off your game. In The Frozen Dead I criticized it for having too many sub-plots and false leads but here, that is actually a strength. Minier is weaving each one together as soon as they appear and we can see and admire the artistry of this literary weaving of plot on plot and character flaw on character flaw. Minier's talent for distinct and beautiful descriptions of environment and atmosphere is still evidenced too. As for the character's development from the first to the second novel, I found all the character's fascinating even though Servaz remains the most involving. We also get to see more of a glimpse into the elusive killer, Julian Hirtmann who, in this and presumably subsequent novels, appears to be giving Hannibal Lector a run for his money.
Minier has now written two eloquent detective novels and has developed a strong personality in Martin Servaz. This is a novel that I not only recommend to the mystery lover but to anyone who likes their mysteries on the intelligent side with lots of psychological tension. I will be keeping my eye out for the next one.