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.