Pushkin Vertigo is a London-based imprint of Penguin Random House that has been reissuing out-of-print crime, suspense, and mystery books written by a number of foreign authors. Last winter they reissued You Were Never Really Here, by Jonathan Ames, a crime novel made into a movie starring Joaquin Phoenix.
Among the other books Pushkin Vertigo has released were English translations of a couple of novels by Frédéric Dard, a prolific French author who wrote over 300 novels, mostly from the 1950s through the 1970s. His work was, for the most part, not translated into English during his lifetime, despite his popularity in France.
Most of Dard’s novels (173 of them) featured a dashing French detective superintendent – Antoine San-Antonio; the books were also written under the pseudonym of Antoine San-Antonio. While the San-Antonio novels were mostly spy fiction, he also wrote a number of 40s and 50s-style noir pulp thrillers. Crush is one of the pulp thriller Dard novels translated and reissued by Pushkin Vertigo.
Louise, a bored 17 year old working in a factory in a fictional suburb of Paris, is the narrator of this first-person novella. She has no close friends, lives with her mother and [almost] step father, both of whom she dislikes, especially the step father. Louise becomes fascinated with an American couple living in a fancy house that she walks by on her way home from her factory job. After some machinations, she is hired by the couple as a housekeeper, enabling her to move out of her parent’s house and into the American couple’s house.
We learn that Louise is developing a sexual obsession with the husband at the same time as it becomes increasingly apparent that she has a tenuous grasp on reality. The reader also learns that Louise is an unreliable narrator, so you have to depend on Louise’s narratives plus other facts to understand what is really going on.
As you’d expect in a noir pulp story – the American wife dies under mysterious circumstances. And, as in the best kind of noir stories, learning what appears to be the reason for the crime and who appears to be the criminal is just a set up for learning the actual murderer, who is revealed on the last page of the book.
The story doesn’t rise quite to the level of some of James M. Cain’s best work (The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity), but it’s pretty good. Relatively short, it’s a fast read that isn’t a waste of time. While Louise isn’t totally fleshed out, it’s decent dark thriller.