Written by Sophie Loubiere

Review written by Victoria Goodbody

RRP: £7.99
Released: 27th February 2014

Mention French crime fiction to most people, and the usual response will be to mention Maigret by Georges Simenon, or occasionally Fred Vargas. Sophie Loubiere is a new French crime writer, and the Stone Boy is the first of her books to be translated into English. The book won the Prix Lion Noir award in 2011.

The Stone Boy is a psychological crime novel, and reminded me of Ruth Rendell's Barbara Vine novels, where the emphasis is not on solving the crime, but on understanding why the crime happened.

The novel centres on Elsa Preau, an elderly widow who has spent a long time in a nursing home, and has now returned to live in the family home. We are aware very quickly that things are not right with Elsa, as she suffers from paranoia and is obsessional. She convinces herself that the stray cats in her garden are emitting signals to the CIA through their collars, and that her house is infested by mice whom no-one else can see.

She develops an interest in the family across the road, the Desmoulins family and their three children, two boys and a girl which quickly becomes a fixation.  She becomes very concerned about the welfare of the elder of the two boys, whom she calls the stone boy, and attempts to get the authorities to intervene. They refuse to, as they can find no evidence of the boy’s existence, other than a drawing made by the girl. The authorities become convinced that she is mad. This is compounded by the fact that twelve years ago, she became convinced that her grandson Bastien was being ill-treated by his parents, resulting in Elsa poisoning herself and him with a chocolate cake that she made.     

The novel is divided into 3 sections. The first part shows us Elsa's background, and how this shaped her current behaviour. The second section is shown in the present day, and the final section is told from the perspective of her son Martin. All of the chapters are very short, interspersed with Elsa's notes and letters and this helps build up tension.  

The main themes of the novel are about family, with a particular emphasis on the interaction between parents and children, and also how the past influences current and future behaviours. The other main theme in the novel is about familial abuse, and how this is very hard to detect, particularly when the other family members collude with what's going on.

The characters in the novel are well-thought out, and fully developed. I found the characters of Elsa and Martin particularly compelling, despite the fact that neither is particularly likeable.

I thought that this was a very good novel, and enjoyed it a great deal. After reading I found that both the characters and the plot have remained with me, and stayed fresh in my mind. I also found it refreshing that the novel did not have graphic descriptions of the murders, or descriptions of serial killers, as I find this is both boring and tedious. I hope that this novel will be the first of many to be translated into English, and urge people to read it.  

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