Title: The French Girl
Author: Lexie Elliott
Publisher: Berkley Books
The French Girl by Lexie Elliott will inevitably get some of the fame that devolves upon all books with the word, girl, in their titles. But beyond that, these books must strive to make their own way.
The summer after they finished university, six friends, Kate Channing, Caroline Horridge, Tom, Seb, Theo and Lara Petersson, go on a holiday to a French farmhouse owned by Theo’s dad. They are friends, but they are also in relationships. Kate with Seb, Tom with Lara. Only Theo and Caro are not in a relationship.
Severine Dupas, a 19-year-old French girl, who lives next door to the farmhouse, often drops in to use their pool.
Ten years later her body is discovered in a well behind the farmhouse. A well that was filled on Saturday, the day the six left the farmhouse to return to London.
The friends have moved on with their lives. Seb has been married 3 years, Tom has split from long-time girlfriend, Jenna, Lara is happily promiscuous. Kate runs her own legal recruitment firm. Caro has as a career as a lawyer in Haft and Weil, one of the most prestigious legal companies. Only Theo has died in battle in the interim.
The case is reopened by French policeman, Alain Modan, and suspicion begins to settle upon Kate. It seems that her then boyfriend, Seb, slept with Severine on their last night there.
Kate’s self-owned legal head-hunting business, Channing Associates, is about to strike a deal with Gordon Farrow, managing partner of Haft and Weil, a prestigious law firm, and Caro’s father. Kate gets the contract, a deal that saves her business from financial ruin.
When rumours of an imminent arrest spread, Kate wonders how long it would be before her life is upended.
The story is written in the first person present tense point of view of Kate. A number of flashbacks are woven through her piece, enabling us to understand how she met Seb, with whom she broke up soon after that holiday; how her business is in danger of closing down.
It seems that Severine got under Kate’s skin a little too much. There is a hint of something dark.
I liked Kate. She was direct, a trait that causes Farrow to respect and admire her. She is also feisty and loyal to her friends, particularly to Tom and Lara. She is good at her job and doesn’t feel intimidated advising Gordon. I also liked the conversations Kate has with the reader
I also liked the characterization of Tom who gives really good hugs.
What I liked most about this book was the word descriptions of the characters.
Kate says of Caro, The extra years have gnawed away any softness. Now she appears brittle.
Of Alain Modan, the French detective: His handwriting is like tiny spiders multiplying across the page.
Of Paul, Kate's partner: His trenchant defeatism curls around him like a fog; being near him brings a chill.
Of Alain again: His active brain working away behind those dark, ironic eyes; scurrying like a rat in a maze to explore all potential avenues.
While the book is a murder mystery and the focus is on the murder, and how the renewed investigation threatens to disrupt their lives, as a reader, I could not help feeling that it is more romance than mystery.
The investigator, Modan, is not quite neutral in his investigation. Ten years ago, he had refused to sleep with Lara. Now, both he and Lara are waiting for him to clear all five of any suspicion, so they can begin a relationship together.
Kate persists in believing that Tom still has feelings for Lara, while Tom has long admired another woman.
Seb’s marriage is being threatened by another woman.
What I found odd was Severine being a disembodied presence around Kate. Not exactly haunting her in the paranormal sense, but definitely one that insinuated herself into every conversation and thought of Kate’s.
The London locale is established through descriptions about what it is like on the Tube, as also smooth yet passing references to how Americans differ from the British.
I felt a little lost when the technicalities of legal procedure came up.
The ending was a let-down for me. Also, the manner in which the mystery was resolved was unreal. There were no clues. Everything was explained too hastily.
Also, while the book was sweet, it was more than a little slow.
(I received an ARC from First to Read).