Saturday, 12 January 2019

The French Girl, by Lexie Elliott.

           Ten years before this story opens, six Oxford university students spend a carefree, booze-and-love-fuelled week in a farmhouse in the French region of Dordogne.  The weather is perfect and so is the farmhouse, which belongs to the parents of Theo, one of the students – it even has a swimming pool, and a very attractive young neighbour, Severine, who avails herself of the pool whenever she wishes:  they are neighbours, non?  And this is what good neighbours do.
            Unfortunately, the happy week is ruined on the last night by a screaming argument and the break-up of a relationship:  the next morning everyone suffers multiple hangovers and a silent, sulky drive back to damp and dirty London and the real world.  Narrator Kate Channing is in pieces, for her romance with aristocratic Seb has ended, partly, she is sure, because of her humble northern origins;  her very best friend Lara is still entwined with Seb’s cousin Tom but that won’t last long;  she has more oomph than she knows what to do with and it needs to be shared around;  Theo of the red hair and uncontrollable blushes (not to mention his inability to tan properly) shocks them all by joining the army, and Caro – smart, spiteful, clever Caro is preparing herself for a stellar legal career:  she will leave them all trailing in her wake. 
            And what of the French girl, Severine, whom no-one gave further thought to as they left?  Apparently, she disappeared after taking the bus to the nearest village, never to be seen again:  oh dear, never mind.  Everyone must move on.
            Until a French detective visits London after a decade to interview all those staying at the farmhouse at the time of Severine’s disappearance:  her cold case has been re-opened for her body has been found in a sealed well on the farmhouse property.  She has been murdered and he has many awkward questions for those who saw her on the last night of her life – and -  quelle horreur! – he seems to regard Kate, now on the brink of success in the corporate world, as his prime suspect.
            It is hard to believe that this is Ms Elliott’s debut novel, for she writes with an easy assurance that most first novelists would furiously envy:  there are no holes in the plot;  the action is fast and furious, and there is a legal end I didn’t see coming – she demonstrates very cleverly the extent that the law can protect and defend everyone, including the criminals.  FIVE STARS.

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