Giverny. During the day, tourists flock to the former home of the famous artist Claude Monet and the gardens where he painted his Water Lilies. But when silence returns, there is a darker side to the peaceful French village.
This is the story of thirteen days that begin with one murder and end with another. Jérôme Morval, a man whose passion for art was matched only by his passion for women, has been found dead in the stream that runs through the gardens. In his pocket is a postcard of Monet’s Water Lilies with the words: Eleven years old. Happy Birthday.
Entangled in the mystery are three women: a young painting prodigy, the seductive village schoolteacher and an old widow who watches over the village from a mill by the stream. All three of them share a secret. But what do they know about the discovery of Jérôme Morval’s corpse? And what is the connection to the mysterious, rumoured painting of Black Water Lilies?
Michel Bussi has fast become one of my favourite thriller writer’s. His novel ‘After The Crash’ was a hit with me, a book that I read in one sitting and could not put down. It was eery and mysterious. Bussi doesn’t let down with his novel, ‘Black Water Lilies’ – a thriller that is, yet again, filled with suspense and shrouded in mystery.
“Three woman lived in a village. The first was mean, the second a liar, and the third an egotist.”
Black Water Lilies follows the investigation into the death of local Giverny villager Jérôme Morval and the mysterious circumstances in which he was murdered: drowned, stabbed, and beaten. Alongside his body is a postcard that leads our investigator, Serenac – alongside Sylvio – to believe that this murder could be due to one of three reasons: women, the Black Water Lilies, or children. Bussi’s novel follows multiple narratives from Serenac, Fanette, Stephanie, and the unnamed widow, who all bring their own viewpoints on the events taking place within Giverny.
The novel opens with a short prologue from the perspective of the widow. Bussi draws the reader in by providing privileged information that the reader does not know what to do with, enticing them to continue reading in order to understand what the widow is on about and revealing the truth behind the clues left by her narrative. It leaves you questioning what events have taken place and why she does what she does. The widow’s perspective is one of a woman knowledgeable about her village, she gives in-depth descriptions of the landscape and buildings surrounding her and seems to know quite a lot about Morval’s body and the situation regarding his death. Bussi portrays her as being quite sly and hidden within the shadows in this respect – she doesn’t give anything away but goads the reader into questioning her motives and actions because of this. With that being said, she appears false with little to no feelings in that she is “playing the widow-to-be” possibly hinting at events to come and the type of person that she is. Out of all of the characters, she is the only character to speak directly to the reader and within first person. It is clear that this story must, as a whole, be directly linked to her.
Next we have our Inspector, Serenac. He is observant, noticing immediately the three ways in which Jérôme Morval’s body has been wounded and provides plausible explanations as to why Morval was murdered in this way. Serenac seems quite flighty in his thought processes, serious and informative at one point before seeming almost crazy when talking to Giverny’s resident dog Neptune, questioning the dog as if he were a witness and a real person. At first it can seem a bit confusing the way Serenac’s train of thought keeps moving around, however it does add an element of humour and lightheartedness to the mystery at hand as well as highlighting that he is the outsider within Giverny.
Stephanie is another of the main characters, one who is whimsical and floaty in her manner and language. She is flirtatious and highly aware of her sexuality and the feelings she excites in others, in particular Serenac. However, Stephanie also comes across as quite intelligent in her knowledge of local history, poetry, art, and Claude Monet, as well as possessing a caring nature in regards to the children of Giverny.
Finally, we have Fanette, the young art prodigy. Fanette does not like to be constrained, running away from those that bore or annoy her, and becoming annoyed herself when her own mother does not acknowledge the skill and passion Fanette has towards art. The character of Fanette at times seemed quite grown up considering she is only 11 years old. This was apparent through her thought processes with the vocabulary used as well as her phrasings and the actions she takes.
“only one of them could escape. The other two had to die.”
I enjoyed reading about the different array of characters and how they interacted with each other, offsetting each others good and bad points. In particular I enjoyed the growing friendship between Serenac and Sylvio; it develops from a level of uncertainty in regards to position and authority with Sylvio refusing to acknowledge Serenac as anything other than ‘Chief’, to becoming a friendship filled with quips and witticisms that bounce back and forth throughout the narrative.
Finally, I truly enjoyed the way that the investigation and the mystery played out and how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Bussi frequently reminds you of the clues found by Serenac and Sylvio as well as the progress they have made towards finding Morval’s murder and why, in particular, he was killed. The novel was constantly raising questions surrounding the characters and their motives, though I did find it a bit repetitive the way that some characters were accused more than others showing the incessant nature of Serenac within this investigation.
The final reveal was also brilliant, and that is all I will say on that topic!