The Messenger by Megan Davis: It’s a thrill ride from start to finish – book review –

Forget the City of Light and immerse yourself in the darkness and menace of Paris’s tension-riven suburbs in a pulsating murder thriller from award-winning debut novelist Megan Davis.
The Messenger by Megan DavisThe Messenger by Megan Davis
The Messenger by Megan Davis

Australia-born Davis – who worked in the film industry and is also a lawyer – uses her years of living in Paris to pen this gripping, edge-of-the-seat mystery which explores life inside the notorious banlieues, places of little hope where concrete, Brutalist-style apartment blocks house the city’s diverse ‘outcasts.’

These are the often unseen shadowy corners beyond the more familiar, sunlit, tourist trail landmarks... the unloved quarters where ‘vast stretches of the unwanted, forgotten and the uninvited’ eke out an existence and where criminality abounds and animosity can fester with the power of an unexploded bomb.

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But Davis digs beyond the routine darkness of the banlieues to bring readers a sinister tale of conspiracy and deadly danger which goes to the beating heart of contemporary Paris, and paints an unforgettably convincing and enthralling portrait of social unrest, political corruption, and resentments on both sides of the wealth divide.

Wealthy and privileged, 16-year-old Alex Giraud has moved back to Paris with his French journalist father Eddy after living in the United States for ten years. He has an easy path to success in the Parisian elite but he’s the new kid at school, doesn’t speak French ‘properly’ and hasn’t made a single new friend.

Alex’s absent and divorced mother is still in America, and he and his domineering, heavy-drinking father have never seen eye to eye. Desperate to escape the increasingly suffocating atmosphere of their apartment, Alex seeks freedom on the back streets of Paris where his new-found friend, 18-year-old Sami Lantou, teaches him how to survive.

But everything has a price, and one night of rebellion changes the lives of Alex and Sami forever. A simple plan to steal money from Alex’s father takes a sinister turn when Eddy is found dead in their apartment. Despite protesting their innocence, both boys are jailed for murder.

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Seven years later Alex is released from prison with a single purpose... to discover who really killed his father. Living now in a parole hostel amidst Paris’s army of criminals, vagrants, exiles and refugees, he searches for answers to his father’s murder and is desperate to atone for the sins of his past.

Recent speculation has drawn a link between the deaths of his father and another journalist – whose body was pulled from the river – as they were both known to be investigating corruption allegations... but soon Alex uncovers a disturbing truth with far-reaching and dangerous consequences.

The Messenger won the Bridport Prize for a First Novel in 2018 as well as the Lucy Cavendish Prize for unpublished writers in 2021, and it’s easy to see why as Davis transports us into a city bedevilled by gangsters, fake news and civil unrest.

It’s a thrill ride from start to finish as we join unhappy, isolated and mixed-up Alex on his twisting, turning journey, first into the menacing streets of the Parisian suburbs, through incarceration for a crime he didn’t commit, and then on his perilous mission to unearth the truth behind his father’s murder and find the redemption he craves.

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It’s a story that exposes personal greed, the inequalities in society, and the pain and unexpected consequences of displacement and fractured family relationships. And Davis is not afraid to peer into the pressure points that Paris has seen over recent decades with riots, social discord, political manoeuvring and criminal warfare playing their part.

With a plot that moves seamlessly between the present and as far back as the Cold War, a cast of exquisitely imagined characters, and a sense of place that grips from the opening chapter to the shocking dénouement, this is a debut you won’t want to miss.

(Zaffre, paperback, £9.99)

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