I love reading crime fiction but too often, I find that they lack depth and a three-dimensional narrative. Most of the books in this genre feature facile storylines where the sole purpose is to solve a stimulating case. We are presented with a perplexing crime scene and taken on an adrenaline pumping chase to catch the culprit but there is hardly any emotional investment on the part of the reader.
In that regard, I found Boundary to be a refreshing read with a multilayered crime story, incisively portrayed characters and nuanced writing. This highly atmospheric book is set in Bondree, a no man’s land between America and Canada. Legends abound about the history of this town which involved an ill-fated obsession and stories of madness. This place is a popular vacation spot – the kind of place where barbecues happen on a daily basis and people lounge around outdoors late at night. So when a girl suddenly disappears, followed by her friend, the residents find themselves perplexed and shocked.
These ill-fated girls are Zaza and Sissy are two young girls who are the object of lingering fascination in their community. They are glamorous, haughty, self-centered for which they are both admired and resented. Generally, they are tagged as one of ‘those girls’. Michaud brilliantly captures the shift in perspectives of the locals after the two girls go missing.
“A girl had disappeared, and as a result the hypothetical disappearance of all girls took the age-old foreboding of any normal parent and blew it up into an enormous tumour, a menace to all unable to conceive that their flesh and blood might not survive them, might not be pledged to eternity. The unforeseeable took centre stage, clacking its teeth, and hoards of parents, aghast, shut their eyes, murmuring that it could have been….Sandra, Marie or Jane Mary, names fate would doom them to incant forever, were the hypothetical to become real.”
There is a sinuous grace to Michaud’s writing, an elegance which elevates the elementary plot. The story is quite simple – a police investigation and what happens afterwards, which minutely observes the effects of such an inexplicable violent act on a close-knit community. One of the highlights of this book is how Michaud puts us right into the shoes of the detectives. Not many murder mysteries dwell on the psyche of the detectives and the toll that their work takes on them as generally, the character of a detective is merely used as the catalyst which drives the action and through which various evidence and clues are collated, pieced together and decrypted to present a cogent picture of the crime and its motive.
The police investigator on this case is still haunted by his last professional failure which happened to be another missing girl. The story takes us deep into the life of a detective with its regrets and insecurities and how hard it is for them to escape the haunting cold cases and murdered victims for whom there was never any justice. Their deaths weigh over their lives and marriages as they go about their business. Police and detectives are taken to be advance guards and go-between while shielding others from the most despicable sides of human nature. This book gives an idea of the emotional and psychological distress they have to endure while helping bring justice to the wronged. Their is a doctor who has to inspect cadavers to look for signs of abuse or anything that takes them to the culprit. He has a set ritual to steel his nerves and prepare himself before every inspection. He has to completely detach and view those poor bodies with their lives cut out as just matter in order to not succumb to his more emotional side.
The book also says something about the pattern of inexpressiveness which men feel they have to embody in order to not reveal any chinks in their armors. In a particularly poignant scene, a police worker envies the ease with which his wife and her friend are guffawing over something completely nonsenical and wonder how he hasn’t shared that kind of complicity ever with another man.
Boundary has a very atmospheric feel and a very vivid sense of place which reminded me a bit of Idaho, another novel which deals with the psychological and social ramifications of a murder.
The story is told through multiple viewpoints which helps in evoking the charged, paranoid atmosphere of Bondree after a heinous act of violence. The writer says something substantial about the pitfalls of forming stereotypes and social labels in how the community first disregards the murder because of the reputation of those two victims which means clearly they were ‘asking for it’.Their outlook gradually changes once they realize how vulnerable their own children were to such evil which had nothing to do with the victims’ actions.
Boundary is a hybrid of an authentic coming of age story on the line of The Girls and a Broadchurch-esque mystery which delves into the aftermath on a community of a macabre crime. It takes a while for the story to grow on you and at times the narrative seemed a bit protracted but overall, this is an exquisitely written novel.
Andrée A. Michaud
Andrée A. Michaud (born November 12, 1957) is a Canadian novelist and playwright from Quebec. She is a two-time winner of the Governor General’s Award for French-language fiction, for Le ravissement at the 2001 Governor General’s Awards and for Bondrée at the 2014 Governor General’s Awards, and won the Prix Ringuet in 2007 for Mirror Lake.
She is a graduate of the Université du Québec à Montréal. In addition to her published novels, she has also written the plays Un paysage / Eine Landshaft / A Landscape and Cette petite chose for Quebec’s Productions Recto-Verso theatre company.
Boundary was published by No Exit Press on 23rd March 2017.
You can purchase a copy of Boundary from No Exit Press:
Review by Rabeea Saleem