by Sandra Murphy
This week we have a review of a debut mystery novel, The French Girl by Lexie Elliot. We also have an interesting interview with Lexie. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of The French Girl, and a link to purchase it from Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.
The French Girl by Lexie Elliott
Review by Sandra Murphy
Ten years ago, Kate Channing spent her holiday with five other friends in a French farmhouse. A neighbor, the French girl, aged nineteen, was a daily visitor to use the pool. On the last day of their visit, the girl disappeared and was never seen again.
Until…her body was found in a well on the property. Now the investigation is open again, and the five remaining friends are under suspicion. Kate and Seb were a couple back then, Tom and Lara, too, at least for a while. Caro was friendly with Theo, but it never went further as far as anyone knows.
For a while, Kate was a lawyer but now has her own business as a headhunter placing lawyers in firms that are the best fit for both parties. If word gets out about the investigation, it could stop her business in its tracks.
The French inspector is charming, but relentless, coming back time after time to ask more questions without giving any information in return. The more questions he asks, the more Kate wonders if she really knew her friends at all.
To make matters worse, Kate sees Severine, the French girl. She knows Severine is a figment of her imagination, but she seems so real, walking barefoot down the street, smoking a cigarette while sitting in the kitchen, or sometimes, just as a pile of bones, much scarier than the other sightings.
As the investigation goes on, alliances shift among the friends, suspicion spawns doubt, and Kate is the prime suspect. The main thing to understand is secrets will always come to light and nothing is what it seems.
Elliott makes a good showing in this debut novel, giving readers a glimpse inside law firms, deal making, and long-term friendships. The twists and turns, not knowing who to trust and never being sure of what really happened versus what is remembered, will keep the pages turning.
My only complaint about the book is that it’s written in present tense which is distracting, but that’s a personal quirk that doesn’t take away from good storytelling.
Interview with Lexie Elliott:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Lexie: I can’t remember NOT wanting to be a writer. As soon as I was old enough to understand that books were created by people, and not somehow magicked into being, I started my own scribblings.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Lexie: The French Girl (Berkley) came out on 20th February. It explores the shifting relationships, and memories, of London-based recruiter Kate as she becomes entangled in a murder investigation following the discovery of a body at a French farmhouse where she holidayed with university friends 10 years ago.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Lexie: Well, I’ve only finished manuscripts in this genre. I have a few 25,000-word drafts on my laptop of books that might fall under different categories, though even those have mysteries at their hearts. I like the framework of a mystery; it gives an excellent set of bones to try and put some flesh on.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in this book? Can you tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Lexie: The French Girl is set in London, where Kate lives and works, and where I, too, live and work, so I felt very confident that I knew Kate’s world intimately. However, the all-important holiday, which Kate and her clique are trying to remember—or forget—takes place in a farmhouse in France. I actually went on vacation to a farmhouse in France with friends one summer during the time when I was doing my PhD, and whilst I was there I had the idea for the story that ultimately became this novel. It rolled around in my head for a good many years before I felt able to make a start on it; I think perhaps I knew I needed a bit more maturity as a writer to be able to tackle it properly.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Lexie: I think as a writer you have to entertain—both yourself (otherwise writing would be very dull) and the reader. To be properly entertained, though, the reader has to be engaged, they have to care, which means that the material has to resonate emotionally in some way. To my mind, really good entertainment, in whatever form—TV, film, theatre, written word—always has something meaningful to say. Having said that, exactly what any reader takes away from a novel depends to an enormous extent on the readers themselves.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Lexie: In theory I have two days a week absolutely dedicated to writing (I work in the city for the other three) and beyond that I just have to do what I can whenever I can. It seems to work for me, though; my brain seems to keep mulling things over when I’m not writing, so I actually have something to say when I get the chance to sit down and type.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Lexie: I’m dreadful at outlining. I only really do it when I’m getting bogged down, to try to clear my head—or when my publisher demands it!
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Lexie: Late at night, but that’s only if I knew I could have a lie-in the next day (given my kids are still young, that happens precisely never). More realistically, in the morning, after a bit of exercise.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published?
Lexie: It’s difficult to finish a manuscript, then it’s difficult to get an agent, then it’s difficult to get a publisher…There’s really nothing about this business which is easy, truth be told. But I think writers write because they can’t help themselves, not because they see it as an easy career path. (If you know someone for whom it has been easy, please don’t tell me—I don’t need that kind of jealousy in my heart!)
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Lexie: When Berkley first became interested in The French Girl, my editor there wanted to have a call with me to discuss the book. Obviously I wasn’t going to say no—but I was at Universal Studios in Florida with my family. You try having a 45-minute serious conversation about your novel and your writing process with the Simpsons theme music on repeat blaring out from the ride behind you…I’m surprised I could even remember the names of the characters!
KRL: Most interesting book signing story—in a bookstore or other venue?
Lexie: Sorry, I don’t have one.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Lexie: To have an interesting book-signing story! And to finish a manuscript without experiencing continual abject self-loathing from the point of 20,000 words onwards.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Lexie: So many, and from so many different points in my life: Margaret Atwood, Kent Haruf, Harper Lee, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robin McKinley, Anita Shreve, Sheri S. Tepper, Jasper Fforde, George R.R. Martin, Annie Proulx…okay, I’m going to stop now.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Lexie: I do what I feel is required for the novel to be believable. I dislike being shunted back into reality if I read something inaccurate in a novel, so I try not to do that to my readers. Sometimes that requires talking to people to fill the gaps in my knowledge, and sometimes the internet is enough.
KRL: What do you read?
Lexie: I read less than I would like, unfortunately, as at present I’m time-starved. Also, I find it difficult to read when I’m writing as I tend to pick up the author’s voice, which interferes somewhat! When I do get the chance, it’s usually a mix of whatever everyone else has been raving about lately and old favorites. I’m not really genre specific, though I don’t read non-fiction or straight horror.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Lexie: Anything with an Aaron Sorkin script works for me.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Lexie: Read: read indiscriminately, read what you enjoy, without worrying about “high brow” versus “low brow,” or “commercial” versus ‘literary.” Then write, and do it professionally: schedule it into your life, don’t wait for inspiration to strike, and if you’re able, invest in yourself by, for example, signing up to a writer’s festival where you can learn more about the craft.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Lexie: I’d like to thank everyone who has championed The French Girl. it has been so heart-warming to see the book connect with readers, and I’m eternally grateful for the support.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Lexie: In 2007 I swam the English Channel solo in 12 hours and 31 minutes. I won’t be doing that again.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Lexie: My website is lexieelliott.com, where readers can sign up for my newsletter, and I’m on Instagram and Facebook as @lexieelliottwrites. I’m on Twitter too (@elliott_lexie) though I’m not an avid user.
To enter to win a copy of The French Girl, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “french,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 24, 2018. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section.
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