Alex by Pierre Lemaitre


One of the fastest moving trends in the YA genre is the crime novel. John Grisham, Harlan Coben and James Patterson, usually write adult crime, are all producing novels aimed at a younger audience. Next week I will review Harlan Coben Shelter, but first, I thought I should indulge in an adult crime novel so I can compare the two. I chose Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex, it was translated into English and re-published last year, and since that time it has received a lot of praise and won the CWA’s International Dagger award for 2013, so I thought it was a good choice.

The first thing I will say about this novel is don’t read anyone else’s review. This might sound arrogant, but I’m giving this warning for your own well being as many of the reviews reveal too much and I found this tainted any mystery the plot may have held. Most of the reviewers have done this inadvertently, but my readers are an intelligent bunch and I know they can read between the lines.

With that in mind, I will give you a very brief plot blurb. The setting is France (mainly Paris), a girl is kidnapped and the police try to solve this and other evolving mysteries- there. I want to mention a couple of things that bugged me about the novel, I don’t usually do this as opinions can be subjective, but I have an uncontrollable compulsion today to put it out there.

First – the cop, he is the stereotype, white, middle aged, pig headed, flawed character we’ve seen time and again in many crime novels. This is a shame as Lemaitre has a talent for characterization. Secondly- the title, it really “had my goat up” as my mother would say. It did the crime genre, which is unpredictable by nature, no justice.

Now for the good- what I love about the novel is Lemaitre’s keen observations on human nature. He manages to create characters that are incredibly believable. His writing pulls out the subtleties and nuances of the everyday, that most of us are unaware. Lemaitre’s talent is in the detail. I’m not talking of the kind of detail that can bore you to tears, I once read a book that described a fob watch for eleven pages, it’s the kind of detail that forms clear pictures in your mind and allows the story to move along seamlessly. It is that talent that leaves me wondering whether Lemaitre should write in a different genre especially literary fiction.

NB: He did win the Prix Goncourt award for an epic novel Au revoir là-haut on WWII; the highest award for literary fiction in France.

In the end I recommend the book for adults who enjoy this genre, as it was enjoyable. I also recommend it to budding writers, as there is much to be learnt from his style, and its what I found to be the most enjoyable part.


Title: Alex

 Author: Pierre Lemaitre

 Published: French 2011, English 2013 Maclehose

 Genre: Crime

10 thoughts on “Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

  1. It’s such a shame when stories with otherwise insightful characterization use a lazy stereotype as a main character. I know that this is often used as an attempt at genre familiarity or to create an avatar for the reader, but it is one of the things that make it difficult for me to buy into otherwise good reads.

    I love mysteries that deal with equally incisive observations of human nature, but I think that your initial concerns give me some pause.

      • Having seen the comment below about graphic violence, I think that I am even better served by staying away. I have a nearly photographic memory for violence and I have no need to have any more of that imagery in my head. It is one of the things that influences me to avoid that kind of imagery in my own writing.

      • I always say to my kids, once you’ve seen it you can’t take it back. I’m usually referring to movies, but the same applies ‘Once you’ve read’ or ‘Once you’ve said’. My motheralways would say rubbish in rubbish out so i guess i take a leaf out of her book.

  2. I haven’t read this one and part of the reason is that every review I’ve seen has given me the same impression of the detecive as a cliched flawed maverick – it’s been done so often I don’t think I can bear another version. But it’s good to hear that he does better in the other characters. I’ve also formed the impression that the book is pretty graphic when it comes to violence?

    • Yes, it has graphic moments, which personally, I do not like; this is why I usually read YA. I’m curious to see how these authors handle the YA genre. I started to read a YA crime novel called Longreach by Peter Cocks and the small part that I read wasn’t at all appropriate for teen readers.

      • I haven’t read much YA but what little I have has often left me wondering just what age they’re being pitched at. But then I’m getting increasingly tired of the graphic sex, violence and language in most adult crime – so maybe it’s me!

      • Agreed. I tried to read “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” but found it too much. I’m pretty sure I’m not prudish, but some of seems gratuitous.

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