The Devil's Choir

By Martin Michaud
Translated by Arthur Holden

The Devil's Choir
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In this intricate, intense mystery from the acclaimed “master of the Quebec thriller,” the ghosts of Victor Lessard’s past come back to haunt him as he investigates a horrific murder-suicide that doesn’t add up.

When a young Montreal family dies in an orgy of bloody ... Read more


Overview

In this intricate, intense mystery from the acclaimed “master of the Quebec thriller,” the ghosts of Victor Lessard’s past come back to haunt him as he investigates a horrific murder-suicide that doesn’t add up.

When a young Montreal family dies in an orgy of bloody violence, all signs point to a rampage by the father. But Victor Lessard isn’t convinced. The brilliant, brooding detective suspects that others were involved in the killings. But who? And why? As Lessard struggles to solve the puzzle, the discovery of a nightmarish chamber of horrors seems to confirm that the murders are part of a wider pattern.

Meanwhile, in the Major Crimes Unit, Jacinthe Taillon is investigating the strange kidnapping of Laila François, a former street kid turned webcam girl. Could there be a connection with Lessard’s case?

With a ghost from his past making him doubt his own sanity, Lessard must evade the lethal operatives of a powerful, highly secretive organization as he races to untangle the mystery — before a diabolical killer can strike again.

Martin Michaud

Martin Michaud is a bestselling author, screenwriter, musician, and former lawyer. His critically acclaimed Victor Lessard series has won numerous awards, including the CWC Award of Excellence and the Prix Saint-Pacôme for Crime Fiction, and is the basis for the award-winning French-language TV series Victor Lessard. He lives in the woods, an hour away from Montreal.

Excerpt

Montreal
A week earlier, May 5th

Simone Fortin rests her head on Victor Lessard’s shoulder.

Lessard is holding his umbrella at an angle, trying to shield her against the torrential rain. After a moment, he lowers the umbrella and lets it fall to the ground.

It’s hopeless. They’re soaked.

The detective sergeant’s arm is draped over the young woman’s shoulders. He pulls her close. She’s holding on to his waist.

Simone is crying. So is Lessard.

Though the rain hides his tears, he’s making no effort to conceal them.

A few weeks after the actual anniversary, they’re marking the sad occasion once again.

They’re at Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, where, for a moment, time stands still, allowing Simone Fortin to recall the friend who was like a sister to her, and letting Victor Lessard remember a passion that was snuffed out after its first brief spark.

Ariane Bélanger was only thirty when she died, cut down in her prime by the stroke of a crazed killer’s knife.

From the cemetery, they walk arm in arm along Côte-des-Neiges Road toward the café where Lessard talked to Ariane for the first time.

Simone breaks the silence as she looks at Lessard appreciatively. He’s wearing designer jeans, a black T-shirt, a well-tailored jacket, and a pair of running shoes.

“You look great, Victor. I can’t get over how much weight you’ve lost!”

Taken aback by the compliment, Lessard reddens and growls something unintelligible. Simone is right. He’s lost nearly forty pounds since the last time they saw each other.

They step into the café.

Apart from a couple of freelancers lingering over their coffee as they take advantage of the free Wi-Fi, the place is almost empty. The waitress, a barrel-chested woman with a head like a shrimp, comes to take their order.

“I’ll have a decaf double lungo with a little hot milk,” Lessard says.

Simone gives him an impressed glance.

“How can you possibly remember all that? I’d like a regular coffee, please. Black. ”

Lessard shifts in his chair.

He wonders how the young woman can seem so lighthearted when he feels so numbed by his emotions. Every time they get together, the ghost of Ariane Bélanger hovers over them, and Lessard is pulled back into the nightmarish events that led to the tragic deaths of Ariane and Constable Nguyen. He and Simone have never discussed the subject. He supposes she’s just more resilient than he is.

“How are things at the hospital?” he asks, to break the ice. “Still doing emergency work in Trois-Pistoles?”

“Yes. But I’m also completing a specialization in gastroenterology. ”

“That’s gotta be a barrel of laughs,” he says disgustedly. “Spending all your time poking around in people’s shi— I mean … you get the idea. ”

Simone certainly does get the idea, and she can’t help chuckling.

“There’s more to it than colonoscopies, Victor. It’s a fascinating field. There have been some great advances lately. ”

“Yeah, well, it’s still gross. How’s Laurent?”

“Terrific. He’s at the hotel with Mathilde. ”

Though he hasn’t seen Mathilde in a while, Lessard has fond memories of Ariane’s young daughter, whom Simone adopted after Ariane’s death. Simone occasionally emails him pictures of the child. And he always sends Mathilde a present for her birthday.

“Are you and Laurent an item yet?”

“I wouldn’t say we are, but I wouldn’t say we aren’t. We’re happy. We support each other. ”

“Has he fallen off the wagon?”

“No. It’s tough, sometimes, but he always gets through. What about you, Victor? How’s it going? How are things with Véronique?”

Lessard’s expression darkens.

This is the question he’s been fearing, but he won’t try to dodge it. He’s about to launch into his answer when his cellphone rings. He sighs.

“Sorry, Simone … Hello? … Now? … No, I was just having a cup of coffee … hang on. ” He takes out his notebook. “Okay, forty-one thirty-nine Bessborough. Got it. ”

The cop rises wearily from his chair.

“I have to go. Sorry. ”

Simone needs no explanation.

“We’re in town for a few more days before heading back. If you have any free time, it would be lovely to go out for dinner with Laurent and Mathilde. ”

He leans down to kiss her cheek.

“I’ll call you. I promise. Give Mathilde a hug for me. ”

He walks back to his parked Corolla.

I’m like an oncologist. I offer people hope without knowing whether I’ll actually keep my word.

Death seems to be part of his karma today.

First there was the visit to Ariane’s grave, and now this call from Nadja Fernandez. Without going into details, she’s just let him know that they have a homicide on their hands. The investigation team is waiting for him at the scene.

His rust-eaten car is speeding through the rain when he sees Véronique Poirier’s name on his caller ID.

He picks up at the last moment.

“Yes?”

“It’s me,” Véronique says. “Is this a bad time?”

“No, but I can’t talk for long. Something urgent has come up. ”

“Okay … Listen, we’ve been over this more than once …” Véronique hesitates, but her tone is calm and detached.

Too detached, Lessard thinks.

“You need to come and get your stuff, Victor. ”

He closes his eyes.

For weeks now he’s been putting the moment off, hoping that Véronique would change her mind — telling himself that she might start missing him, that she might realize they can’t live without each other.

He and Véronique shared a carnal passion, a sensuous interlude during which he felt like he was being reborn. Since their breakup, he’s been wishing he’d never met her. Yet the relationship did have some positive effects: it prompted Lessard to adopt a healthier lifestyle (he now drinks decaf, eats mostly vegetarian, and goes to the gym three times a week); to take an interest in art (Véronique is a painter); and to experience unrestrained eroticism (apart from Ariane, he’d only had a single sexual partner, his ex-wife, whom he’d been with since his teens). Véronique also introduced him to trendy boutiques. He now knows where to buy clothes and how to dress with taste.

The problem was that, being unfamiliar with the rules of dating, he was no good at respecting boundaries. He didn’t know when to call, when not to call, when to show interest, and when to keep his distance.

It’s clear, in retrospect, that the relationship went sour when Lessard started spending most of his free time at Véronique’s condo instead of at his place. One evening, he showed up at her door, wearing a smile and holding a box filled with his belongings. He explained that he’d lent his apartment to his son Martin for a few months. Véronique’s welcome was icy. Lessard had jumped without a parachute. The resulting free fall ended with a brutal impact that brought him perilously close to hitting the bottle again.

“You seem so cold, Véronique, so distant …”

“I’m not cold, Victor. I’m just not in love with you anymore. ”

“Were you ever?” he asks softly. “You and I weren’t a real couple. I’ll tell you one thing: I’ll never love for two again. ”

Cold silence greets this remark.

“Come and get your things when you can. ”

Reviews

The atmospheric series is to Montreal what the late Swedish writer Henning Mankell’s crime novels are to Stockholm.

Around every corner of this labyrinthine plot, a new and disturbing reality arises, including kinky sex, torture, child abuse, and a mission from God. Lessard is a damaged man, but a keen detective. Readers will hope he has a long career.

The Devil's Choir is a “complete” thriller: a very well-run plot, captivating and believable characters, impeccable suspense. Michaud is carving out a place of choice among the elite of the Quebec industry.

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