Review

The Murdered House

by Pierre Magnan

One of the most exciting trends in mystery fiction over the past
several years has been the availability for American readers of
mysteries originally published in other languages. Traditionally,
literature in translation has been a hard sell for the American
reading public. However, with bestselling mystery series from
international authors, mystery lovers in the United States are
bucking that trend.

Some of the most widely-read international mystery novelists are
those from Scandinavian countries; now, with the publication of
Pierre Magnan’s THE MURDERED HOUSE, aficionados are bound to
discover that the French also possess their own talent for
suspense. Magnan’s novel was originally published in France
in 1984 (when it won Best Novel of the Year), but its rich plot and
evocative setting make it just as chilling today.

The novel begins in 1896, in the Alps of Upper Provence. A
somewhat tense family scene opens the book, in the last minutes
before all the members of a young family are murdered in their
home, La Burlière. The only surviving family member is the
three-week-old baby, Séraphin Monge, whose own father (or is
he?) has his doubts about his wife’s fidelity and the
child’s paternity even in the moments before his own violent
death.

Twenty-three years later, Séraphin returns home to
Provence. He was raised an orphan, with no real understanding of
the tragedy with which his life began. His mind has been more
concerned with recent horrors, namely those in the bloody trenches
of World War I. But when he hears the story of his family’s
gruesome death and sees the stains and scars that still mar the
family home, he becomes obsessed with two things: destroying the
scene of the crime and tracking down those responsible. When the
prime targets themselves turn up dead before Séraphin can do
the job himself, the mystery grows increasingly complicated.

THE MURDERED HOUSE is notable not only for introducing American
readers to a newly translated voice in suspense fiction (this is
Magnan’s third novel to be published in the U.S. in the past
two years) but also for its unusually rich, atmospheric setting. As
readers may guess from the title, the house in which the Monge
family’s murders occurred becomes as much a character as
Séraphin himself: “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
whispering ruins invited him to consider their dismal example, the
fragments to which they had been reduced.”

Patricia Clancy’s translation from the French may strike
some readers as overly faithful to the original; others may
appreciate the somewhat foreign-sounding phrasing and,
particularly, the inclusion of original Provence dialect and
definitions thereof in footnotes. But the suspenseful, foreboding
setting and the angry, vengeful youth at the novel’s center
will speak to readers regardless of their native language.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 7, 2011

The Murdered House
by Pierre Magnan

  • Publication Date: November 9, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 031236721X
  • ISBN-13: 9780312367213