Australian author Megan Davis works in movies and travels the world, and has settled on Paris for her psychological thriller debut. With film credits include In Bruges, Atonement and the Bourne franchise, she lived in France for a time which helps with the authenticity of the Paris setting. The Messenger is a rare combination of domestic psychological drama and conspiracy thriller seeking to charm lovers of both sub-genres. It addresses hot social issues on a very personal level but also with an eye on the politics.The two very different strands of this story turn out to be different sides of the same coin, linked inextricably.
One Christmas Eve, difficult teenager Alex’s father Eddy is murdered in their apartment. Alex and his street friend Sami are obvious suspects as they tried to extort Eddy that evening. Alex kept watch while Sami leaned on his old man for money. When Eddy resisted a fight broke out. When Alex sees Sami again he has blood on him. He swears it was just a scuffle and the two boys flee. But there are witnesses who saw them there.
By the time the police catch up with the teenagers it has emerged Eddy was stabbed to death. Sami swears he didn’t do it but Alex doesn’t believe him. At the trial Alex blames Sami, whose background goes against him and so does everyone else. Of course, Alex is implicated but as a 16-year-old he gets a shorter sentence than Sami, 18, who gets 25 years.
Nearly eight years later Alex has been released and has returned to Paris but is banned from the Zone One region, the centre of the city. That’s where Eddy’s murder took place and his father’s friends still live nearby. Alex’s parole officer is clear that breaking the rule will see Alex back inside, but he’s desperate to prove his innocence and no longer believes Sami was guilty. So, the murderer is still out there and Sami is rotting in jail when his crime was hitting Eddy, not killing him.
Alex contacts the people who knew Eddy back then and an different take on the events of that evening is revealed in the present. It’s no spoiler to confirm Alex is innocent but still this story has surprises and twists all the way. We see it all unfold through Alex’s still youthful but wiser perspective.
Initially, this is domestic noir. Alex’s parents had split up and he lived with his father. Eddy seems to have been constantly disappointed by his son. Alex was failing at school and thought his dad a hypocrite. His mother had a new boyfriend and was now keeping her distance from her son. Eddy, a journalist and a philanderer, was often distracted leaving Alex feeling neglected. So streetwise Sami became his role model, but that led him into marijuana and a different social set.
This is a story of misunderstood youth, dysfunctional families and petty crime leading to tragedy – but that’s just half the picture. Alex, seeking his redemption, investigates his dad’s death, the philandering journalist ruffled influential feathers, writing edgy stories. The man made enemies. He was a bad father but a good investigative reporter.
Alex not only convinces people to talk to him about Eddy but he comes across his father’s papers. Is there something buried there, if there is can Alex find it?
The novel pays homage to Paris and the different arrondissements of the city have a key part to play in the story. This is something it’s best to say little about, except this isn’t just a personal story, it’s about inequality and corruption and the abuse of power across the metropolis. It chimes with the increasing gap between ordinary people and the wealthiest, which is exacerbated by COVID. It touches on racism, immigration and gentrification.
The duality in this plot is inventive and Alex, armed only with his innocence and perseverance, is a fascinating character. He’s convincing as a lost youth at 16 with no direction in life but then as a 23-year-old with a purpose – a mission. Davis gets dislocated youth but also how we are all pawns in a world that panders to greed, wealth and power. Crucially, the novel manages to maintain the fascination of the personal and the political stories. Intense, engaging and genuinely empathetic – a remarkably accomplished debut. Not a light read but a rewarding one.
For a another view of Paris corruption Little Rebel by Jérôme Leroy.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars