Don't Turn Out the Lights by Bernard Minier is the 3rd Commandant Martin Servaz novel (Available December 6, 2016).
Great writing is like great baking. The ingredients have to be spot on, properly prepared, and well thought out. They have to be mixed together just right so that the interplay between them becomes a perfect juxtaposition rather than a jumbled mess. When done well, the final product is a heavenly treat that leaves you craving more—and Bernard Minier pens an excellent recipe for a terrific thriller in Don’t Turn Out the Lights.
This book is seriously good. I’ve never been much of a fan of dream sequences in books or surreal layers overlapping the narrative, but this has changed my mind. Big time. Like a cake that’s to die for, Don’t Turn Out The Lights is a delight of many layers, each with its own distinct flavor. The dream sequences keep you guessing about what is real and what is not in the most delicious fashion, and the violence is served up just as it should be—sparse, cold, and dry, leaving a nasty taste in your mouth.
One day before Christmas, the snow is coming down thick, crisp, and even on the streets of Toulouse. Christine is doing well. She’s got a partner that she is sure loves her and a job as a presenter at Radio Five. There, she focuses on proper topics—not just airy, pointless, and endless trite, but subjects of substance. All seems good. Granted, she has demons—mainly connected to her parents like everyone else—but her work is going well. She has never been late, not once in seven years. What could possibly go wrong?
She went to her car, which was parked in a nearby street, treading carefully (I’ve had enough to worry about already), opened the passenger door and reached for the de-icing spray in the glove compartment. It had not snowed a great deal overnight; the layer on the body of her old Saab was no thicker. She walked around the bonnet.
And froze. For half a second, she stood with her arms limp at her side, her breath coming out in little white clouds. In the film of snow covering the windscreen, a finger had written:
“MERRY CHRISTMAS, YOU FILTHY BITCH.”
Christine shuddered. Then looked all around her, slightly dizzy. The panic returned: the evil finger that had written those words must belong to someone who knew that the owner of the car was a woman.
She squirted the de-icer onto it. Then put the canister away and locked the Saab. She didn’t have time to make the journey by car, in any case. Not with this snow. She rushed towards the nearest Metro station careful not to slip. She was late. In seven years, this had never happened.
Not even once.
This is just the beginning of a nightmare in which everyone seems to be pulled—acquaintances and complete strangers alike. Christine tries to get one step ahead of the situation as it unrolls at breakneck speed, but all she succeeds in doing is making everything worse, and it gets more dangerous by the minute.
An unsolved murder in a hotel seems to hold a clue, as the keycard to the room it took place in unexpectedly turns up. Servaz, the local policeman, realizes that his fate is intertwined with the victim of the crime, but that offers little comfort, as the case spirals out of control and the hunted become the hunter and then the hunted, once again.
You can’t get through the hard times alone, despite what some people may tell themselves. Everyone needs somebody, and sometimes help is staring you in the face but is too close for you to actually see it. So it is with Christine, who seeks help from an unlikely source. Unlikely enough to make her think she actually is going mad.
It was only once she had left the bedroom that she realized how afraid she was. Was it wise to invite someone like him to her place? What did she actually know about him? Absolutely nothing. He might be an ex-convict, a strung out junkie, a thief, a rapist.
Too late. She had given him the code.
Having said that, she could always refuse to open the door. She walked over to the door and checked that it was locked. Then she went back to her bedroom. Now he was sitting again, staring up at her window. And at her. He made no sign to communicate whether he accepted or refused her offer. He just went on observing her from down there, his face upturned, unreadable.
Suddenly she felt very uncomfortable: he must take her for a madwoman.
Then what will he think when you’ve explained what you want from him.
Every five minutes she went back to the window, more and more impatient, but he still hadn’t moved. After roughly an hour, she went to the window again and froze. The pavement was empty, he had left his post. When the doorbell shattered the silence of the flat, she stiffened. And yet he was doing just what she had asked him to do.
Dear God, you are completely crazy.
She took a long deep breath. And covered the distance to the door, unbolted it and opened it.
The action whips along at such a pace that it heats you up and you forget it is set in winter. Even when everything settles into place and you get the feel of what is happening and where it is going, you will still not see the ending coming. This one follows a brilliant recipe and mixes everything together just right. And with the holidays right around the corner, treat yourself to this literary feast.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.