Translated from the French by David Warriner
The Bleeding is an unusual crime novel with three timelines covering three different eras, combining a millennial police procedural strand set in Québec, with two historical threads, one set in post-WWII Québec in 1949, and the other older still in 1899, in Belle-Époque Paris. The focus of each is one particular woman. It begins in 2002 with Maxine Grant, a police Lieutenant in Montreal, who is called to a crime scene in Lac-Clarence, a village an hour and a half out of the city. On the first page we learn that Maxine is not yet fully back at work after being at home with baby Hugo, whom she’s had to leave with her teenaged daughter Charlotte.
It had to be me they called. Me.
She arrives to find Mrs Caron near catatonic, freezing cold and covered in her husband’s blood. Philippe, a celebrated author and professor, is very dead – stabbed over thirty times. Mrs Caron, Pauline, was the local school teacher, who’d taught Maxine to read and write – yes – she is from the area. Meanwhile, Maxine’s sergeant Jules has arrived and the pair are called to the crime scene in the house, the SOCO has found something… a macabre discovery that will lead the investigation in a very different direction indeed. As Pauline is unresponsive, even to Maxine, her boss brings in Professor Gina Montminy, a famous forensic psychologist to do the interviews.
We then turn to meet teenager Lina in 1949. Her father has died during the war and she’s struggling at school, in particular being bullied by another girl called Tamara. Lina always gets the blame when she fights back. Her mother works in an asylum and sometimes takes Lina there to do her schoolwork while she works. There, Lina meets an old woman who befriends her, and when Lina tells her about her problems with Tamara, she has the answers, which lie in an ancient text of black magic, and Lina is hooked.
We now meet the final woman of the three, Lucienne. Her Parisian mansion is burned to the ground in 1899, taking her two daughters with it, but Lucienne can’t believe they perished in the fire. She is convinced that they must have been abducted. When no ransom transpires, she is still determined to try to contact them, and is led to the world of spiritualism and its darker side.
I’m not going to expound on the plot further other than to say that the three timelines will gradually reveal their links, some easy to work out, others not. The two historical strands support the contemporary one, laying the groundwork for the gruesome twists to come there, the ending being truly shocking!
Amongst all this darkness – and it is a novel that gets darker and darker – it was fun to spot that Gustawsson gives her pal and fellow author Roxanne Bouchard, a small role as a character.
Gustawsson handles the blend of murder and black magic so well and the suspense and increasing horror as it all becomes clear made this novel a real page-turner. Maxine is under pressure the whole time, as a single parent looking after a baby, who shouldn’t be back at work really. She is totally intrigued by Prof Montminy though, and learns really interesting things about her interview techniques, and they form a strong rapport. Of the two historical strands, it is Lina’s that grabbed the most as we see the teenager desperate to be accepted, learn how to do it the wrong way which leads to even worse things…
This was my first Gustawsson novel, and by golly, it was a good’un! If you like your crime dark, gothic and complicated, yet suitably compact at well under 300 pages, I can thoroughly recommend The Bleeding, and I want to read her next and previous books now.
Source: Review copy – thank you. Orenda paperback original (with red spredges!), 261 pages.
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