The diminutive Camille Verhoeven is a Commandant (equivalent to Detective Chief Inspector) in present-day Paris, an awkward fit not so much on account of his size (he is a mere four foot eleven) as on his maverick approach to investigation. Other than that, he is happily married, hopes soon to become a father, and does not have a drink or drugs problem. He is (I was about to say, "in short") believable.

His adversary, a serial killer, is somewhat less so – but he’s a great character for a book. Indeed, he (the killer) is obsessed by books, crime books in particular, and moulds his gruesome killings around those he has meticulously copied from crime classics. (James Ellroy, John D MacDonald, Bret Easton Ellis, Emile Gaboriau and William McIlvanney are among his favourites.) As he continues on his far from merry way he begins a literary duel with Verhoeven. He writes entertainingly but behaves abominably.

The relationship cannot remain one of elegantly written letters. The book (the real one, the one I’m reviewing) is called Irene. So is Verhoeven’s wife. Clearly we are heading for a deeply personal and very nasty climax. And for you literary types, there’s a touch of meta-fiction thrown in as well.

Brilliantly translated, and a gripping read.

Irene

Pierre LeMaitre (translated by Frank Wynne)

Maclehose paperback, £8.99, 978-1-78206-812-9

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