An odd one this. Not so much a whodunnit as a doesn'treallymatterwhodunnit. What's impressive about that is the lack of a need to know bears little impact upon the amount of pleasure I derived from the book.
In an impressive, though deteriorating, house in the middle of town, lawyer Hector Loursat has withdrawn from the outer world and also the world within his walls. He drinks and reads and drinks some more until he's unable to soak up any more alcohol and has to try to get himself to bed. He's dirty, unkempt, unfriendly and unpleasant. If it weren't for his wealth and his servants, he'd be drowning in his own filth.
His daughter, Nicole, is almost unknown to him. They eat together, but that's as far as it goes- there isn't even any conversation as they dine. It's partly because she's a mystery/non-entity to him that he hasn't noticed the life she's been living on the floors above. She's joined a gang of rebellious and anarchistic youths, discovered the thrills of breaking the law, enjoyed the delights of a sexual relationship and managed to hide away a seriously injured man in one of the spare rooms. Said injured man is one night found shot dead causing some alarm for the maid and arousing the curiosity of Loursat.
When it becomes clear that Nicole's boyfriend is a key suspect in the murder, Loursat slowly opens up, life a flower offering one final bloom. He leaves the house, finds that the world outside is at least as interesting as those existing between the covers of books and eventually takes on the case.
Each of the gang members has their character dissected. We get to see the misfortune, the opportunities or lack of, the social injustices of the French class system, family problems and the inner workings of humanity as the case is investigated and father and daughter begin to engage with each other in a way that hasn't happened since Nicole's mother upped and left.
No longer is Loursat intoxicated by booze alone. Instead he gets high on the sights, smells and intrigues of the cafes and bars in the locality.
Eventually, we're taken to the courthouse where the remainder of the novel is almost entirely set.
The dissection continues and the interest is maintained, but if the characters on the stand were actors, it would have to be pointed out that they're a little hammy and wooden.
In the end, without any clear reason, the case is solved when one of the gang melts while giving testimony. It's not expected and doesn't feel entirely plausible. That said, it really doesn't matter. As I mentioned at the start, the book gives a great deal of pleasure and that's almost entirely because of the study of the lawyer. It's fantastic seeing him in decline and thrilling to see him re-engage with life.
Moody and sensorial, this one will get under your skin, for sure.