Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Adversary – Emmanuel Carrère


In line with my exploration of the various forms that true-crime books are served up for consumption I was delighted to receive a copy of this book from fellow blogger damppebbles, especially as I found it to be one of the most disturbing books I’ve read for a long time. Not because the crimes are any more or less horrific than some of the others I’ve explored but because the story is so well told by Emmanuel Carrère that I kept forgetting this wasn’t fiction and so found myself horrified all over again when I remembered, this really did happen.

Jean-Claude Romand was convicted for killing his wife, two children and his parents in separate and seemingly well thought-out attacks, he then set fire to his house after taking some pills. Jean-Claude was soon rescued by the local fire service and questioned by the police. The murders took place in January 1993 and Emmaunel Jean-Claude Romand started corresponding with the murderer after his conviction in 1996, the results are the Adversary.

Not only is this a chilling crime, the root of it is bizarre as the need to kill his family stems from a lie Jean-Claude told when he was still a teenager, engaged in a medical degree and a second year exam which he never sat. From that moment on, he acted to friends and family as if he had passed his degree and was therefore a qualified doctor, so sought after that by the time of the murders he was purportedly a researcher for the World Health Organisation (the WHO), but it was all lies. Obviously, since his days were spent pretending to work, visiting libraries and walking, he needed some hard cash and the second strand of his deception was to encourage his friends and family to invest in hedge funds and foreign ventures. This supplemented his wife’s salary and the pair had the kind of lifestyle others would envy.

The construct of this true-crime book is as if it were a novel which makes it incredibly readable, it starts with the killer sentence that can’t help but grab your attention:

On the Saturday morning of January 9, 1993, while Jean-Claude Romand was killing his wife and children, I was with mine in a parent-teacher meeting…’

From here the back story of Jean-Claude is painstakingly built up and the author illustrates his struggle to stay objective which works for the reader as you get a feel of the pull of the lies this criminal can tell whilst being seemingly plausible and the more worthy outcome of our author not giving him the kudos he so obviously craves. It’s fascinating to see the various change in presentation the author uses, earlier in the book there are some explanations about the character, some attempts to understand his actions until later more of the points which the author presents starkly on the page and then stands back and lets the reader join the dots themselves.

This is a short book but it certainly doesn’t feel rushed, in fact I felt that if we had heard much more about the subject, a killer and a con man, it would have felt that we were feeding his narcissism even more than the book’s publication has probably already done. A fascinating exploration of this French criminal that I’d never heard of, and a story that sounds more unbelievable than much of the crime fiction I read.

First Published UK: 6 July 2017
Publisher: Vintage
No of Pages: 208
Genre: Non-Fiction – True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US



A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

24 thoughts on “The Adversary – Emmanuel Carrère

  1. This sounds like a really powerful story, Cleo, all the more so, as you say, because it really happened. And I do like the style in which it’s told. It’s much more engaging that way, I think. Very glad you enjoyed it, and it makes me wonder how many other people out there have also been claiming to be doctors, but aren’t…


  2. Disturbing, narcissistic characters make good fiction…but when we realize that these events really happened, and that these characters are very real, we are reminded that these kinds of people do walk the earth, probably in much larger numbers than we realize. Some of them are in powerful positions.

    Thanks for sharing!


  3. I’m lukewarm on True Crime, but this one sounds like a potential winner. I’m glad you wrote about it. Check out my latest review – Unsuitable Girls by Dolly Dhingra. Have a good one!


  4. I was hoping you would read this one and looking forward to your thoughts. I think you captured it perfectly: That Carrere refuses to be impressed and presents Romand as a petty con man rather than the tragic misunderstood figure he wanted to be. Sadly, the after story is disturbing: He presented himself as a model prisoner, so charismatic that other prisoners and even guards called him the Doctor and consulted him on minor ailments etc. As Fictionfan says, it happened in the village where I later lived in France and it still is frightening for the people who live there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had read your original piece about this book and so was over the moon to receive a copy. It is just so unbelievable that he got away with the deception for so long and sad that he continued it in prison!! When something like that happens in a small community I can believe that his crimes haunted them all!


  5. I read this recently but haven’t reviewed it (yet). I don’t read a great deal of true crime but I agree that it doesn’t feel rushed despite being such a short book which reflects very well on Carrere’s skills as a writer in my view. It’s a very chilling account – Romand was clearly a psychopath in the way he treated those around him with such detachment.


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