The Executioner Weeps: A heady tale of memory loss and dread by Frederic Dard

Reading The Executioner Weeps is reminder of how direct and well-paced a crime novel can be. It flies by with such determination that you, the reader, want to slow down and savour the writing a little longer.

The pace seems fitting given just how prolific its author was. Frederic Dard, in his less than 80 years on this planet, penned over 300 novels. 173 of these chronicled the adventures of his James Bond style spy San-Antonio and became something of a French institution.

However, away from that franchise Dard also wrote a great deal of standalone noirs that rivaled his mentor Georges Simenon. The Executioner Weeps is one such story.

It opens deliciously: a French painter on working vacation in Spain is out driving one night on the outskirts of Barcelona when a girl steps out in front of his car in the dead of night. She’s hit, her violin case smashing into thousands of pieces. She’s still alive but she remembers nothing.

Feeling responsible, guilt stops him from going directly to the police and decides instead to her back to his hotel. It isn’t long before mystery turns into lust as the painter is lured into the idea of owning a living, breathing blank canvas. Ideas of innocence and guilt are inverted by Dard in the Vertigo-esque first half of this novella before the second half feels like something straight of Hollywood noir when the repressed secrets bubble dangerously to the surface.

The Executioner Weeps is searing, dark and economical work of which Dard rules over with great authority as he expertly blends glossy thrills, social commentary and escapist lust. Pushkin Vertigo have dug up hidden treasures from Dard before and this one stands proudly alongside the likes of Crush and Bird in a Cage. It’s out now and comes highly recommended.

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