Title: Don’t Let Go
Author: Michel Bussi
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
An Imprint of the Orion Publishing Group Limited
Price: Rs. 399/-
Michel Bussi’s “Don’t Let Go” may not have touched the heights reached by his “Black Water Lilies” reviewed earlier in these columns; yet, it is an engaging read, gripping you in its throes as it takes you on a whirlwind ride through the days following the mysterious disappearance of Liane Bellion. Not the least of its charms is its setting – Réunion Island, an overseas department/region of France, in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar and about 175 kms south-west of Mauritius.
The concept of the territory itself is quaint – far away as it from France of which it is still a part; and also, so distant in terms of the ethnic cauldron of peoples drawn from diverse lands that forms its populace; and therefore, also its culture, which is its very own brew distilled from the intermingling of these diverse peoples. For, if the Portuguese discovered the island, it soon came to be occupied by the French. In colonising the island, the French bought in workers from Africa, China and India; and much of them were slave or indentured labourers.
Réunion, a beautiful and idyllic spot, a gem of an island with many natural attractions is a popular tourist destination. And to this gemlike place come Martial and Liane Bellion along with their six-year old daughter Josapha, or Sopha as she is called, for a holiday.
One day, even as the three are enjoying a lazy afternoon splashing in the pool of the resort they are staying in, Liane goes to her room….and vanishes. A while later her husband goes up to check on her and discovers that she is not there, or anywhere to be found. Checks by the hotel staff and police reveal a bloodstained room, and no signs of where or how Liane could have gone. No one has seen her exit (a cleaning woman on the floor confirms this), and no strangers have been seen entering or exiting the room either.
And from there begins the chase, the attempts at unravelling of the mystery. While the chase takes you all over Réunion, the unravelling of the mystery introduces you to the nuances of ethnicity and culture of the place. The various characters that Bussi has conjured up go into creating a rich tapestry that is the book. Each of them is so distinct and so different from people you have encountered in real life or in fiction, that they add a lot of colour and character to the novel.
The book is peppered with Creole words, phrases, and sayings adds another layer of charm to the overall quaintness of the book. The other aspect is the rhythm set by the style that Bussi has chosen to write the book in. The entire story unfolds by date and time. Now, this may not sound unusual, and I know many authors who divide their chapters by dates, and some even by time. But in the case of “Don’t Let Go”, the time seems to be beating a tattoo of urgency, it sounds a staccato of impending peril and doom.
Specially since the events described under each moment describe the scene from different aspects, different viewpoints. It is like viewing a kaleidoscope and each turn bringing into focus a different pattern or picture. So, the story unfolds, the cops suspect that Martial has either killed his wife or is responsible for her disappearance. In the meanwhile, the body of a local boy, a dreamer who spends much of his time by the seashore is found.
Soon Martial and his daughter too disappear and the police begin chasing them in earnest. Throughout the book, one is kept guessing. Is Martial a killer? Is Sopha who is with him in danger? Or is Martial leading the police a merry dance for some purpose of his own? And who is the sinister stranger who keeps making an appearance? What is his connection with Liane’s disappearance or with Martial and his past, which emerges bit by bit through the narration of the story. This is only Michel Bussi’s third book translated into English; he has written 10 novels, we are told. It would be interesting to read the others.