Gallic charm: Sébastien Japrisot’s The Sleeping Car Murders, tr. Francis Price (France)

Sébastien Japrisot, The Sleeping Car Murders, tr. from the French by Francis Price, Gallic Books 2020 [1962]

First lines: This is the way it began. The train was coming in from Marseille.

If you need to tiptoe away from the world and its troubles, why not head to the Gare de Lyon in Paris on an October morning in the 1960s. There, a guard checking a newly arrived sleeper from the South of France has just discovered a corpse in Berth 222: a woman last seen alive that morning by those who shared her sleeping compartment, but who is now very definitely and mysteriously deceased.

Enter Inspector Antoine Pierre Grazziano — or Grazzi — from police HQ at the Quai des Orfèvres. He and his team begin to investigate Georgette Thomas’s murder by tracking down the occupants of the other six berths, but soon find themselves stretched to the limit as the body count starts to rise.

There really is a lot to like about this inventive police procedural. Grazzi, the rather weary, harassed lead detective, is a sympathetic and quietly tenacious figure. The characterization throughout the novel – from the train guard to the other passengers to the perpetrator – is a rich delight. The style is sparky and wry, and there are some cracking plot twists, particularly towards the end.

Author Sébastien Japrisot (1931–2003) is the pseudonym of Jean-Baptiste Rossi (spot the anagram), who was a prolific crime writer, screenwriter and director. In 1965, The Sleeping Car Murders was turned into the film Compartiment tueurs, starring Yves Montand and Simone Signoret; it was also the first film directed by Costa-Gavras. Here’s a brilliantly mad trailer.

I’m looking forward to reading more by this author – somewhere on the dial between Georges Simenon and Pascal Garnier?!

6 thoughts on “Gallic charm: Sébastien Japrisot’s The Sleeping Car Murders, tr. Francis Price (France)

  1. You had me at the train setting, Mrs.P. I have a real fondness for trains, and they are great backgrounds for crime stories. And I like the sound of Grazzi, too – a complex character, but not falling into the trap of the stereotypical demon-haunted detective. I absolutely must look this one up!

    • I agree, Margot. Who can resist a train setting – especially after Agatha Christie’s expert deployment of it at least twice (Murder on the Orient Express / 4.50 from Paddington)? I liked Grazzi a lot – and there are plenty of other interesting characters too. Lots of different perspectives!

    • I totally get why, Roy – it’s a real page-turner. I’m so glad Gallic Books have brought this underrated author to our shores. Have you read any more of his novels as yet?

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