The Red Notebook by Michel Bussi

Bussi writes a different type of thriller, playing with the genre and building up the tension slowly, slowly.

It starts with Leyli Maal at the offices of the housing estate trying to convince the officer that she needs a bigger flat for her family. She is now a legal immigrant but all three of her children are sleeping in one room and she sleeps in the lounge on the sofa. The place is covered in their clothes, washing out on the balcony and the toys of Tidiane, the youngest, are spread throughout the two rooms. The only thing Leyli insists on is that the whole family eat together every evening.

Someone, though, is killing men that she met on her journey to France – men that she has had children with and men who work for a charity that helps illegal immigrants and the police seem a little distant and incapable of solving the crime.

This is a book of stories – there is the story Leyli tells of her life to men, there are stories that she heard as a child and there are the stories that Tidiane hears from his Grandparents. And these stories lead us to the truth. Eventually! But whilst this is a thriller and about solving a crime, in reality it is a vehicle for discussing the lives of illegal immigrants and those who prey on them. The book lays out clearly some of the laws that lie behind immigration in France that defy common sense. (It’s the same here.)

‘Without children, I don’t qualify for a larger apartment. Without a larger apartment, I can’t bring my children over.’ (She gave another bitter laugh.) ‘The guy who invented this is an absolute genius. It’s a conjuring trick like those Mobius strips. The authorities can force us beggars to go round and round in circles, indefinitely – counter A, counter B, counter C, social housing agencies, the council, the prefecture, OFIIH and they’re each hooked on their own forms, each obsessed with their own boxes that have to be filled in.’


The book focuses on the difficult journey of immigrants, the plight of women on these journeys, what happens when you land in France and the type of work you can expect. It is a social commentary and a very effective one with a really strong storyline to back it up.

He would then hammer home his message, pointing out that the current number of migrants on the planet had been stable for years, at around 3 percent of the world’s population, namely three times less than in the nineteenth century. A paradox in a globalised society, where everything circulates much faster and more widely than in recent centuries: money, information, energy, culture. Everything. Everything except people. The majority of people. Democracies were now building walls. A real epidemic since 11 Spetember 2001. Walls not to barricade themselves, but to filter. To sort and select, to pass people through a sieve, separating the desired from the undesirable. No border is more militarised, more costly, more deadly than the one between the United States and Mexico, even though tens of millions of vehicles still travel back and forth between Tijuana and San Diego every year.

p226 – Jourdain Blanc-Martin trying out his speech to open a conference on migration.

This was a fantastic book and I will go back and read the rest of his thrillers. I have read Black Waterlilies but several years ago.

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