Thursday, July 7, 2011
The Praying Mantises - Hubert Monteilhet
In a nod to the Victorian novelists Monteilhet also constructs his novel in the epistolary form. The book consists solely of letters, diary entries, and newspaper articles in telling the story. The focus is on two married couples: Paul and Vera Canova, a university history professor and his Russian emigrant wife, and Beatrice and Christian Magny, M. Canova's secretary and her husband who happens to be a teaching assistant to M. Canova. The book opens with a series of letters from M. Canova to his bank and a life insurance company outlining his plans prior to a wedding. I cannot help but think of Double Indemnity whenever life insurance is mentioned in a crime novel written anytime after the 1940s. You can be sure that the Byzantine instructions about the life insurance policy and how the money is to be handled and dispersed will play a pivotal role in the story. From there the story twists and winds its way through the machinations of the three other main characters.
If you are looking for a break from a steady diet of whodunits and want to sample something with a more exotic flavor then look no fruther. The Praying Mantises is far from typical fare and will more than satisfy a craving for something delectably diabolical. That it also garnered two literary prizes for Monteilhet certainly underlines its value as a creme de la creme work of crime fiction.