Sunday, July 22, 2012

J is for Sébastien Japrisot

Today I am featuring the French author, Sébastien Japrisot, for the Crime Fiction Alphabet for 2012 hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

Here is a brief author description from Wikipedia. The Wikipedia article gives more information on his novels, translations, screenplay credits, and filmography.
Sébastien Japrisot (4 July 1931 – 4 March 2003) was a French author, screenwriter and film director, born in Marseille. His pseudonym was an anagram of Jean-Baptiste Rossi, his real name. Japrisot has been nicknamed "the Graham Greene of France".
Under his real name, he published his first novel, Les mal partis, in his teens. He followed that by translating fiction from English to French, including several Hopalong Cassidy novels and works by J. D. Salinger. In the early 1960's, he wrote and published his first mystery novel: Compartiment Tueurs, later published with the following titles in English: The Sleeping-Car Murders and The 10:30 to Marseilles. He followed this with three other noir mysteries: Trap for Cinderella, The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun, and One Deadly Summer. Per the overview in The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery by Bruce F. Murphy, all of these novels are unique and there is no series character.

I recently read The Sleeping-Car Murders, which I had purchased years ago. This paragraph from the back cover of the Plume trade paperback edition introduces the action in the book. I prefer to omit any other description of the plot, because I think it would lessen the enjoyment of the novel.
A beautiful young woman lies sprawled on her berth in the sleeping car of the night train from Marseilles to Paris. She is not in the embrace of sleep, or even in the arms of one of her many lovers. She is dead. And the unpleasant task of finding her killer is handed to an overworked, crime-weary police detective named Pierre Emile Grazziano, nicknamed Grazzi, who would rather play hide-and-seek with his little son than cat and mouse with a diabolically cunning, savage murderer.
At first I did not like the style of the writing. Within the first two or three chapters, I became immersed in the story and adjusted to the writing style. The plot is very complex, and once I got into the story, I was hooked.

The book is relatively short, which was probably good or I might have gotten lost keeping track of the characters. The book is organized in chapters by each occupant of a berth in the sleeping car, as the detectives search for these persons who may have clues to what happened. One subplot follows what happens to one of the sleeping car occupants as she gets settled in Paris, and I found that to be very well done.

The book is a police procedural, and we get indications of the personal lives of the detectives and the pressures they experience as they work through the investigation, and this is accomplished without distractions from the main plot.

Several of Japrisot's novels have been made into films. The film for this book was directed by Costas-Gravas. As noted in this review at Mystery*File:
Before he made his mark as a political director with leftist leanings, Costa-Gravas made his debut with this slick little police thriller about the hunt for a mad killer.
I looked into the availability of that film but to my knowledge it is not currently on DVD.

Japrisot is best known in the US for his 1991 novel, A Very Long Engagement (original title, Un long dimanche de fiançailles), which was made into a very successful French-language film in 2004, by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

I had the same problem with writing style when I read A Very Long Engagement. And in that case I never really adjusted to the writing and I did not enjoy the book fully because of it. Maybe because it was longer and an even longer cast of characters. However, I found it a beautiful story about a very determined young woman's search for the truth. I also learned more about World War I and France during that time period.  I saw and enjoyed the movie, and perhaps would enjoy reading the book more the second time around. In The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery, it is described as a historical mystery.

I would love to hear from anyone who has read books by Japrisot and get recommendations for further reading.

Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for the letter J.


Anonymous said...

Tracy - What an interesting choice for J. I've heard of A Very Long Engagement but didn't know about The Sleeping-Car Murders. It sounds like a fascinating, even if complex, approach to telling a murder mystery story. I should read that one.

Scott said...

That looks like an interesting movie. :)

Peggy Ann said...

These novels look really intriguing! I love the covers. Will add this author to my wish list!

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Fascinating choice TracyK even if this author didn;t do it for you - his work tends to get lumped together with the tricksily-plotted books of Boileau and Narcejac which I think are better thought of nowadays. I've seen more of the film adaptations than actually trad the Japrisot novels though ...