Roubaud is consumed by a jealous rage when he discovers a sordid secret about his young wife’s past. The only way he can rest is by forcing her to help him murder the man involved, but there is a witness – Jacques Lantier, a fellow railway employee. Jacques, meanwhile, must contend with his own terrible impulses, for every time he sees a woman he feels the overwhelming desire to kill. In the company of Roubaud’s wife, Severine, he finds peace briefly, yet his feelings for her soon bring disastrous consequences. (from Goodreads)
For each book in this series, Zola picked one or two main subjects, which he studied thoroughly, and presented them to us in an impeccable way. In this work, the leading theme is murder and violence, and as secondary (yet omnipresent) topic was the railway system.
What I found interesting about the first part of the book was that it practically became a regular murder mystery book, except that, for once, we already knew the murderer. Zola amuses himself making a fool of the detective, who has a very high opinion of himself and believes to be such a great thing, but has not a clue of what was going on, while higher ranks were already pulling the strings behind him to arrange the case in a way that wouldn’t damage the political power.
Being murder the main subject, Zola gave us not one, but several killings in this book, all for different motives and different MOs, exploring what makes a person to make such decision, how do the murderers live with the consequences of their act and why do they manage (or not) to get away with it.
Fun fact (?): I read mostly while commuting, so a large portion of this book was read on trains. One afternoon, coming back home, I was reading a part where a train collided against an obstacle, with very tragic consequences. While waiting for my train to leave the station, I overhear the engine driver talking to a woman… “I won’t do a thing today, I have a trainee”.
It was probably the most terrifying ride I had… for 5 minutes or so. The trainee did a good job, but still, I had such an adrenaline rush!
Fun fact 2: I think this is the oldest I own. It doesn’t have a date of print, but after some research I did online it made me think it was published during the 1900s or 1910s, and it was probably printed in a linotype machine. I believe it originally had a paperback, as a tiny piece of its original cover remains, but it was rebound into a hardcover.