Boundary: The Last Summer by Andrée A. Michaud

It’s 1967 in the vacation cottage community of Boundary; an idyllic place to bring your family for the summer. Until a teenage girl goes missing. And then another. Replacing the peacefulness of the place with terror.

Who is responsible? is it one of the community members, or the ghost of an old man who used to live in the woods? The detective on the case works tirelessly to solve the crime before another tragedy takes place.

Although this novel is centered around a crime, the heart of the story is about the community; how do you react when something like this happens so close to home? How does it affect you, and your relationship with your neighbours? Are you brought together as a group to support each other, or are you torn apart with suspicion?

Zaza Mulligan’s death had changed Boundary’s landscape, leading people who barely talked to one another to stand together, to slap each other on the back and offer encouragement..  trading languages and curses, exchanging recipes for Rice Krispies squares. Nothing would be the same from now on. You’d wave from one porch to another, you’d honk while passing Duchamp making his turn around the lake on his bicycle… you’d borrow screwdrivers and cups of sugar, and the children, come the night, would no longer whisper the name of Tanager, Tanager of Bondrée, in flight before the hissing of the waves.

At times I found the story thrilling, at other times more of a study of time and place, but either way I found it compulsive reading. I was just as invested in the reactions of the characters as I was in solving the crime. One thing that I think made it particularly effective was the periodic narration of a 12-year-old girl vacationing in Boundary with her family. Seeing it all unfold from the eyes of one of the children – whose parents attempt to shield her from it – involved but not involved – trying to figure out the adults’ secrets – not quite knowing for sure – but sometimes seeing things the adults don’t see.

My parents lives began with me, and I couldn’t conceive that they had a past. The little girl posing in black and white on photos stored in a Lowney’s chocolate box that served as a family album didn’t at all look like my mother, no more than the boy with the shaved head chewing on a wisp of hay near a wooden fence looked like my father. Those children belonged to a universe that had nothing to do with the adults whose immutable image kept the world on its steady course. Florence and Samuel Duchamp’s entire purpose in life was to provide, to protect, and to impose limits. They were there and would always be there, familiar figures for whom I was the only reason to be alive, along with Bob and Millie.   /  It was only that summer, when things got out of hand and I began to lose my bearings, that I came to see that the frailty of those little people shut up in the Lowney’s chocolate box had endured down the years, along with the fears buried at the heart of every childhood, fears that resurface as soon as it becomes clear that the world’s solidity rests on a foundation that can be swept away with a single gust from an evil wind.

… I thought of what I could do so that my little sister would continue to sleep peacefully, so that Gilles Ménard might go back home and spin Marie around under the greenish light of the trees that touched the sky, so that my mother would stop jumping every time a curtain flapped, so that life would go back to normal, that was all, the way it was before death got in the way. But there was nothing to be done, of course. Everyone knows that death stains, that it leaves marks everywhere it goes, big dirty tracks that make us lurch backwards when we’re about to step right into them.

I’m not a big mystery reader, but Boundary is the type of mystery book I can get behind.

Andrée A. Michaud is a Canadian novelist and playwright from Quebec. She is the author of ten novels and is a two-time winner of the Governor General’s Award for French-language fiction, for Le ravissement in 2001 and for Bondrée in 2014. Boundary is also the winner of the Arthur Ellis Prize for best French-language mystery novel, the Saint-Pacôme Prize for mystery novels, and the Quebec Arts Council Prize for best literary work from Quebec’s Eastern Townships. 

In an interview with Biblioasis, Andrée Michaud mentions that Boundary is the third novel in a trilogy that explores the “differences and similarities between French Canadian and American people through their languages, their sense of space, their culture, and also through the climate and the geography… In Boundary, I’m going further, because the story is set exactly on the border , where the differences disappear or, on the contrary, are accentuated by the proximity of the other.”

Thank you to Biblioasis for sending me a copy of this book for review. Boundary is the most recent addition to their International Translation Series, and is translated from the French by Donald Winkler.

Have you read any good mystery novels lately?

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22 thoughts on “Boundary: The Last Summer by Andrée A. Michaud

  1. A Life in Books says:

    This sounds as if it might explore similar territory to Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 which also looks at the effects on a community when a young girl goes missing. It’s a fascinating theme.

  2. TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

    I like the idea of looking at how a crime, or a series of crimes, affects the community where the crime takes place. It adds a unique aspect, if place and time are also focused on. I feel like I’ve read a lot of crime novels recently, but I really haven’t. Miss Marple is certainly holding the top spot on my meagre list of crime novels read so far this year.

    • Naomi says:

      I still haven’t read any Miss Marple, even though I keep meaning to. But it reminds me… my friend’s cat is named Miss Marble, changed a bit because of her marble colouring. 🙂

  3. The Cue Card says:

    Hmm interesting that it takes place on the border. Does the plot talk about Americans quite a bit? I’m interested in the differences and similarities. thx.

    • Naomi says:

      It doesn’t talk about Americans a lot, but it does explore the differences between the French community and the Americans somewhat through the characters. If you’re interested in that then you might want to check this out!

  4. Grab the Lapels says:

    Looking at the quote you provided, I thought the voice of the narrator, a twelve-year-old girl, was pretty solid until the last line: “Everyone knows that death stains, that it leaves marks everywhere it goes, big dirty tracks that make us lurch backwards when we’re about to step right into them.” That sounds way too grown-up to me! Writing a younger person’s voice is hard, though, and I know I’m a hypocrite. I love Oskar in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, but many people have complained this small boy who narrates sounds like . . . Jonathan Safran Foer, who was in his 20s at the time of writing.

    • Naomi says:

      I had the impression that the narrator is looking back on this particular summer in Boundary and telling the story. While the other point of view is more in the present (third person). It sounds a bit odd, but makes for a dreamy, nostalgic kind of feeling.

  5. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    I love mysteries, and I love “literary” mysteries, which is what this book sounds like. Have you ever read Case Histories by Kate Atkinson? It’s one of my very favorite books ever, one of my favorite characters ever (Jackson Brodie.) I think someone who doesn’t read mysteries generally but enjoy well-drawn characters and literary fiction would enjoy it.

    • Naomi says:

      I read Case Histories a long time ago, so long ago that I can’t really remember it. Maybe a good candidate for a re-read? I do like like “literary” mysteries. 🙂

  6. buriedinprint says:

    OOoo, that sounds really good: thanks!

    They do publish such fine stories. Sometimes I think I should just rig up their catalogue to auto populate a spreadsheet for a TBR list!

    I’ve been reading through Margaret Millar’s mysteries, a Canadian writing in the 1950s and ’60s, and quite enjoying them. She is a little like Ruth Rendell, in that she is often more concerned with the psychology behind the crime and the characters’ responses and motivations; understandably, that’s not to everyone’s taste as they aren’t always true pageturners, but I find them quite interesting!

    • Naomi says:

      I do like the sound of the Margaret Millar books you’ve been reading. And I think the fact that they were written in the 50s and 60s would add an extra layer of interest (for me).

      I have been loving the books from Biblioasis!

    • Naomi says:

      I haven’t heard of that one. You’ll have to let me know what you think of it!

      It’s nice to hear from you, Cecilia! I hope you’re having a good summer. 🙂

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