After the Crash by Michel Bussi

Picture of After the Crash

RATING: 8/10

PUBLISHER: Orion Publishing CO

Pages: 432

AVAILABLE FROM: for €11.35

Michel Bussi, a geography professor at the University of Rouen, is one of Frances most celebrated authors, with his books selling well in excess of 500,000 copies. After the Crash was first published in France in 2012, winning the prestigious Maison de la Presse award and becoming a runaway success. It has now been translated into over 20 languages and the film rights have reportedly been snapped up. It’s easy to see why.

On the night of December 23rd 1980, at 12:33am, Airbus 5403 flying from Istanbul to Paris crashes into the Jura mountains during a snowstorm. Of the 169 passengers on board, all but one are killed instantly. The only survivor is a 3 month old baby girl, seemingly thrown from the plane on impact. Two families step forward to claim the child, one wealthy with a background in the oil pipe line business, the other from humble beginnings operating a food truck at various festivals. But is the little girl Lyse-Rose de Carville or Emilie Vitral? As DNA testing was not seen as fully reliable at the time ( the first instance of DNA testing being used in a court case did not occur until 1986), the families become embroiled in a lengthy and bitter court battle to determine the identity of the baby, dubbed ‘Dragonfly’ or ‘Lylie’ by the French media. Private Detective Crédule Grand-Duc is hired by one of the families to investigate the case, and he studiously documents every lead in the case in a journal, but is unable to solve it. Then, on the eve of Lylies 18th birthday, the detective miraculously spots the solution to the case in a newspaper article from 18 years previous. The next day, he is found brutally murdered.

Naturally, some suspension of disbelieve will have to occur when you first pick up this book. After all, a 3 month old baby girl managing to survive a plane crash inferno without even a scratch doesn’t exactly scream realism. But when you factor in that there was more than one baby on board the flight, the plot to figure out her identity becomes quite an intriguing one, and Bussi handles the suspense well by deliberately placing red herrings throughout the story to draw the reader in, thinking they have solved the mystery, only to find fresh evidence that brings them back to square one. However, the pace drops mid-way through for a time, with Crédules journal entries becoming very long-winded, and dragging the story down. We empathize with the character of Marc at one point when he asks: “Why couldn’t he just write things down instead of stretching them out as if he were penning a thriller?”. This is really the only negative, as after it gets over this hiccup in the middle, the novel regains its composure and finishes strong, with a conclusion that wraps up the story with a plausible ending.

Bussi has done a great job at inventing characters that are compelling and flawed. It’s easy to feel sorry for all of these characters. They are all damaged in some way by the plane crash and the events that followed, and when you think about it, who wouldn’t be? Interestingly, the miracle child, Lylie, doesn’t feature too much physically in the narrative, but she is obviously the driving force behind the story and her presence is always felt. With her blond hair, blue eyes and a “pure bred elegance”, Lylie is impossible to ignore. After reading Crédules account of the case, she sets off on a mission that she insists on doing alone. We spend a lot of time wondering what she is planning. Revenge? Suicide? When we finally find out her plan in the third act, it comes as a shock, cleverly written so as to disguise it until the reveal.

The characters of Marc and Malvina also both lost their parents in the titular crash, and they are essentially two sides of the same coin, each showing what the other could have been under different circumstances. Despite Lylie, Marc is essentially the protagonist of the story. It is through his eyes that we follow Crédules diary and he has the most interactions with all the other characters, driving the subplots along. His conflicting feelings for Lylie, a girl who may or may not be his sister, are both heartbreaking and disturbing in equal measure. Malvina is in her mid twenties and although she is the only heir to a massive fortune, her life is far from idyllic. Unable to come to terms with the possible death of her little sister along with her parents, she is still almost child like at the age of 24, something which she has seen many psychiatrists down through the years for. Her and Marc originally hate each other but eventually begin to trust and gain an understanding of each other.

Ultimately, After the Crash is an absorbing read. Despite a dip in the middle that threatens to derail the story, Bussi manages to ramp up the pace again to give a satisfying mystery with a conceivable ending and an unforseen twist. The story evokes memories of Steig Larssons famous novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in which a private detective is hired to solve a decades long mystery. As that story has had two successful adaptations, it is easy to see why film studios would rush to snap up the rights to a story such as this, and upon its release it will no doubt follow its source material in being hugely successful.

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