Imagine if you will being in the south of France. You a living in that idyllic region and your marriage is beginning to flourish again. Your young daughter is amazing, adjusting to the new country with ease. Your wife is loving her job and introducing you to new ideas. And you have a collection of friends and neighbours that are loving and warm. But with the squeal of tires on a wet cobblestone road, all of that is lost and your find yourself in an underworld of political mayhem and murder. That is the realm that Todd Babiak sets out his protagonist in his novel Come Barbarians.
French Toddlers choose a single stuffed toy and carry it wherever they go, a doudou. They remain devoted to the dirty, fading mound of dyed polyester until they reach elementary school. Then, in a ritual that changes from family to family but usually involves tears, they divorce themselves from it, an education in fidelity and loss. “Soft,” in French, is doux. A doudou is a “soft-soft.” On Lily’s first day of kindergarten, in 1992, when they were still a family, Christopher Kruse was sure he heard the letter r in there. “I sleep in French is je dors. Kruse heard “dors-dors,” and he convinced himself it made sense: a sleep-sleep. Even when the child says a public goodbye to her stuffed animal, at five or six or seven, the doudou can stay in bed with her for years – for the rest of her life.
Babiak has written a great novel here that is perfect to loose oneself here. Not only is the plot filled with twists and turns but his descriptions are vivid.
The Gendarmes presented his with a list of what they had taken: four of Evelyn’s notebooks, family photographs, all three passports, and some photocopied magazine articles about the Front National that Jean-Francois had given them. Madame Boutet and her partner with the moustache allwed him back inside and ordered him to be at the gendarmerie that afternoon. Once all the imported detectives from Avignon and Arles and Carpentras were finished their work at the bloody farmhouse behind the chateau, someone would be in charge of the investigation. Kruse stood at the window in the master bedroom, watering the flowers. This had always been his job, in Toronto and here, and today he received it like a gift. If Evelyn came home and the flowers were dead it would say too much.
Two German couples in shorts wandered through the ruins with pamphlets. They were regular people with regular marriages, Sunday night dinners with their grown-up children.
Sleep was impossible. Everywhere she had been, he went. Kruse walked the narrow streets and through all the rounded, miniature plazas of the medieval upper town. He climbed to the ruined chateau, walked around it some teenagers and, from its vantage point, looked down. Back in their the sat for ten minutes at an outdoor café along Place Montfort, watching for her. He took a coffee and some sparkling water on an empty stomach. The table was polka dotted with dew. He had seen historical photos with the carved stone fountain, water flowing crookedly and splashing into a pool on one side, and the giant plane trees. The centre of the square, now a parking lot, was once a place to talk politics and children and play petanque.
This is a perfect novel for the stormy weekend or the long trip. The plot twist and turns and the reader never can guess what is going to happen next. A gripping read for sure.
The brawler turned to his left and drew snot into his throat and spat, as though he had just discovered something poisonous in his sinus.
Kruse was close now. Everything about the brawler was ugly but his eyes, which were a ghostly, translucent blue. Whole neighbourhoods in Toronto looked just like him: Soviets. In the movies and spy novels, in his childhood imagination, this was the villain, the unknowable enemy of love and democracy.
The Russian was a wreck of muscle and fat, but he held the knife out in front of him and twirled it. Kruse thought briefly of that old Michael Jackson video. Maybe Kruse was a sweetheart but the man before him was untrained, a simple prison goon. With a frustrated shout, the driver leaned across and opened the passenger door. He held a cellular phone to his ear. The brawler called back and the driver held the phone aloft. It was an order. An order! Before the Russian was fully in his seat, the driver accelerated away. Kruse made a note of the licence plate number and jogged back to the intersection.
Come Barbarians by Todd Babiak is a gripping and exciting thriller with strong literary elements. Well worth to take the time to read and enjoy.