Michel Bussi’s ‘After the Crash’ is an imaginative thriller. The basic premise of the story is what holds this novel together.
In the December of 1980, a plane from Istanbul to Paris crashes in the mountains near the Frano-Swiss border. Everyone in the plane dies except for a 3 month old girl child. She is thrown out of the plane and in that freezing cold, is kept alive by the warmth of the burning plane.
A rich family comes forward to claim the child as their grand child. Just when the formalities are about to be completed, another family, not so well off, comes to claim the child as their own grandchild. The case goes to the court and after a long process the child is handed over to the poor family.
The rich family employs a private detective who works on the case for 18 years and is unable to solve it. In a fit of depression, he leaves his diary behind for the surviving girl to read and decides to shoot himself. As he is about to perform the act, he keeps the old local newspaper, which first reported the details of the crash in front of him. Then he sees something in the newspaper which solves the mystery for him. Before he can takes steps to inform the concerned people, he is killed.
Most of the book is about the investigation performed by this private detective. We get to see all the actions performed by him through his diary. The diary also helps in slowly unraveling the mystery. In many places rather than unravel the mystery, it deepens it.
This book depends completely on the construction and story telling. The characters are not well developed. Rather they are more like pieces of a puzzle. The puzzle is laid out in an enticing manner that you really don’t care for the characters. Rather you are more interested in the solution to the puzzle.
Bussi builds the suspense slowly. He allows the reader to think, ‘If this is what happened, why didn’t they check the obvious things?”. In the next page, the obvious things get checked and they deepen the mystery. The user then thinks of the next steps which was not done and that step gets done after a couple of pages. In short, this is a story born on the drawing board. A board on which the incident, the questions and the timelines are all laid out and then ticked off one by one. The success is how these are ticked off only after the user gets sucked into the mystery and is trying to solve it on his/her own.
This is not a standard thriller novel in the sense of there being a strong villain. Here too the villain exists but the thriller aspect doesn’t come from the villain but from the central puzzle. These sort of interesting puzzles are double edged sword for the thriller writer. Whenever the puzzle is very interesting, the denouement must be equally effective and satisfying. Else the whole novel crashes, leaving the readers unsatisfied. Bussi is able to come up with a very logical and satisfying solution, giving the reader no cause to complain.
The lack of character development keeps it rooted in the genre and hence the novel doesn’t rise above the genre, though the story has the potential. It reads like a standard but effective thriller. Worth the buy.