The killer who quoted Magritte

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The current thriller is particularly fond of retired or temporarily out of service cops. A choice that gives the author more freedom and the main character the invaluable asset of not being accountable to anyone. This of course only works if our hero has kept some very good contacts in the police, even in the underworld. This network allows him to move forward at his own pace without worrying too much about bureaucracy, and sometimes ethics. Suddenly, he often overtakes the official investigators who do not fail to discreetly request his experience and his help.

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This context is precisely that of The Magritte Affair by Belgian Toni Coppers. His investigator, Alex Berger, is on sick leave for depression after the death of his wife Camille in the Paris attacks in 2015. For two years, he has regularly consulted his shrink to try to get out of it and get copiously intoxicated to fight against the nightmares that beset him. He reproaches himself, among other things, for not having been at his wife’s side that fatal evening on the terrace of the Carillon.

Meager clues

Hazard? Curse? If Alex Berger couldn’t make it to Paris that day, it was because of his job. One defendant, John Novak, a third-class criminal, had suddenly agreed to sit down to dinner. A last-minute interrogation that had allowed his accomplices to be locked up. Now this man returns, two years later, in the life of Axel Berger when his ex-colleagues call on him to solve a curious murder case.

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Novak has just escaped from prison and murdered an old lady. He left a strange letter beside the corpse proclaiming “This is not suicide.” An allusion to the famous painting by Magritte Image betrayal, which hardly resembles him. The clues are very meager. For Axel Berger, the quest for the truth will be all the more difficult as other victims – without apparent link between them – are added to the first, always accompanied by the sinister missive.

Old fashioned polar

With The Magritte Affair, Toni Coppers offers us an old-fashioned thriller, a story where the harshness of life and the psychological suffering of the protagonists are more important than violence or barbarism. In this book, Brussels, Paris, their streets, their bistros, their atmospheres play a big role at the same time. Alex Berger, for example, lives in “one of the most beautiful buildings in Brussels, the Saillant de l’Yser, an imposing Art Deco building opposite the equally imposing and magnificent Citroën garage”. An address not to forget to write down for your next trip to Belgium.

Very popular in Flanders, Toni Coppers has received numerous awards, including the Hercule Poirot Prize. Written at the request of Magritte’s heirs and published in 2017 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the great painter’s death, Alex Berger’s investigation is his first detective novel translated into French. We can’t wait to discover more.

Toni coppers
The Magritte Affair
Translated from Dutch by Charles de Trazegnies
Editions Diagonale, 350 p.