Bussi’s novel falls heavily into the category of mass-market espionage fiction, similar in style to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code or even the works of John Le Carre. The author unfolds a veritable jigsaw puzzle eighteen years after the night of December 23, 1980, when Airbus 5403--flying from Istanbul to Paris--crashes into the isolated Mont Terri Mountain on the Franco-Swiss Border. The sole survivor is a three-month-old baby thrown from the plane when it collided with the mountainside and before the cabin was consumed by fire. Lying about a hundred feet from the blaze, the child
was kept warm by the protective heat of the burning cabin.
As we delve into the journal of Credule Grand-Duc, a private detective who was employed by the wealthy Mathilde de Carville to uncover the mystery of the baby’s true identity, we--like young Marc Vitral--soon learn that Grand-Duc was a meticulous man. He devoted thousands of hours to the case but was unable to discover
to whom the baby actually belonged. Now grown into a beautiful 18-year-old, the girl is called Lylie, the name an amalgam of Lyse-Rose and Emilie, the granddaughters from two families who originally made claim to her.
In the pages of his pale green notebook, Grand-Duc offers a spellbinding read, a thrilling mystery that circles again and again back to Lylie and her brother, Marc Vitral; to ugly, embittered, and uncontrollable Mathilde, Lyse-Rose’s big sister; and to Nicole Vitral, Marc’s grandmother.
The true nature of Lylie’s origins has become a macabre set-piece culminating in the detective’s desperate entreaties that he has finally found the perfect lead on the eve of Lylie’s eighteenth birthday.
For Marc, who first reads the Grand-Duc’s journal and decides to hunt out its contents, there’s something surreal about discovering each detail of the tragedy that has consumed his childhood. Lylie runs away from him, but not before giving Marc the notebook in which he learns about the tragedy of “Mont Terrible”, the outpouring of national grief, and
“the miracle child” who was first claimed by wealthy industrialist Leonce de Carville and then by Pierre Vitral, who claimed the baby was his paternal granddaughter. Ignoring Pierre’s pleas that “the girl with the blue eyes” was his beloved Emilie, Leonce embarked upon a carefully plotted campaign to discredit the Vitrals and to adopt Lylie as his own.
While the core of the mystery focuses on Grand-Duc’s new discovery, the actual plot centers on Marc, a fragmented and reluctant anti-hero who is split into pieces over his love for Lylie and the very real possibility that she’s not his sister after all. The only way that Marc can find the truth is to retrace Grand-Duc’s steps, a path that puts him into direct conflict with unhinged Malvina, who is determined not to abandon her little sister, “her little dragonfly.” Encouraged by Mathilde, Malvina searches for the truth, all the while subconsciously aware that her manipulative grandmother may have spent a fortune for nothing.
While I frequently admired Bussi’s brisk sense of pacing, there are considerable hurdles that prevent the plot from really adhering, from Grand-Duc’s last phone call before his death, to his new piece of evidence, to Marc as he delves deep into the depths of his memory without knowing exactly why. It seems to Marc that Grand-Duc has awakened old demons that for years have plagued the Vitrels and the de Carvilles. In spite of the animosity and hatred between the two families, Marc is buoyed by the promise he made to his grandmother, the kindly Nicole Vitrel: to find out the truth about what really happened on that terrible, disastrous night on 23 December 1980.
While Bussi’s writing style is mostly static and wooden, Grand Duc’s narrative keeps both
the reader and Marc on tenterhooks. By novel’s end, the author’s exploration of the cost of obsession brings the story full circle despite the over-the-top suspense and a series of unlikely clues--like breadcrumbs--that Bussi peppers throughout his story.