I’m becoming a fan of Scottish writer Peter May. Extraordinary People, which seems to be the first book of a new series, only added to my enthusiasm.
Enzo MacLeod (half Italian, half Scottish) is the father of two daughters. One, whose mother died, adores him and lives in France. The other, whose mother he divorced, will not speak to him. However, she too lives in France.
Enzo used to be a forensic scientist for the police, but now he teaches biology at the University of Toulouse. As a sort of a lark, he makes a bet with a friend, a journalist who’s writing a book on unsolved disappearances. Enzo bets him that he can solve the disappearance of a famous professor, public intellectual, and film critic about ten years before.
Quickly he is able to identify a skull discovered in a metal case in the catacombs of Paris as that of the missing man. Along with the skull various items were found, and Enzo believes they are clues to the motive and murderer. He begins to run the clues down, using the resources of the internet, which did not exist when the man was murdered. Along the way he gradually learns that someone is following his investigation, someone willing to kill him and those he cares about to keep old secrets.
The form of this mystery is one I don’t generally buy into – the serial puzzle mystery, where the detective has to solve a series of obscure riddles to solve the crime. Such things happen in real life, I think, never. In outline, this story resembles the National Treasure movies, which I found contrived and unconvincing.
But May plays the game at a much higher level, and while I recognized the implausibility of the plot, I still had a good time following it. Enzo is an ambivalent character who can sometimes repel the reader, but his growth in maturity and self-knowledge is part of the story.
Cautions for the usual stuff, plus a couple naive comments in the Dan Brown line. But overall I enjoyed Extraordinary People very much.