Marc Dugain ‘Avenue of the Giants’

As this thriller begins, we learn that the narrator is Al Kenner an adolescent at the outset of over seven feet tall,imageKenner takes us quickly through his oppressive family life as an unwanted child until he winds up at his grand parents farm, the first defining moment of his life when he delivers this matter of fact description.

“My grandmother was always yelling…I heard the old woman’s voice…even in the great out doors I felt enclosed…at about a hundred meters from the house I caught sight of my grandmothers outline, the old woman was just in front of her bedroom window with her back to me to avoid having the sun in her eyes….I walked towards her, my head more or less empty, I felt annoyed at seeing her again but no more, There were only twenty meters between us, she must have heard the sound of my boots on the dry earth but she didn’t turn around, I said to myself turn around, go on turn around! Why I wanted her to turn I didn’t know, the only thing that crossed my mind at the time was that I wondered what it would be like to kill your grandmother, it was the sort of outlandish idea an adolescent would have, except that normally they wouldn’t do it, when I got to say ten meters, I armed my Winch….I shouldered and then shot her in the neck….she was certainly dead, I didn’t hate her so much as I would want to see her suffer so I shot two bullets into her back near her heart”***

Al Kenner’s story is a mixture of fact and mostly fiction based on Edmund Keeper the ‘Co-ed Killer’, we learn that he is narrating his life story whilst yet again in a psychiatric hospital. After killing his grandparents on the the day president Kennedy was assassinated he had served a first five year term where, during his discussions with the psychiatrist, he discusses his initial actions before being declared sound of mind and being released to his mother

“for our first session he (Leitner) established the rules, he asked if I knew how to play chess, my grandfather taught me the basics and I had rewarded him by firing one bullet into his back and another in the back of the head….he made an exception to the rules and asked me if I felt any empathy towards him (my grandfather) explaining that empathy meant putting oneself if the others position…the question surprised me, how could I put myself in his place? How can you put yourself in a dead man’s position, a tenth of a second before the shot, he’s an old bloke getting the shopping out of the boot of his break….a tenth of a second (later) he’s nothing, dead, so I asked Leitner where was the place for empathy in this?”***

As the story advances Dugain manages to persuade us through Kenner’s prose that he has recovered and is an intelligent character with a real capability to earn people’s trust, we as readers, don’t want to believe the clues that accumulate before our eyes as his triple life unfolds.

He becomes friends with the Santa Cruz police chief and his daughter, helping him build a psychological profile of a serial killer and being asked to find missing teenage girls (at the end of the sixties it was not uncommon for youths to take off to hippy communes or farms). This conversation with the police chief’s daughter tells us about his state of mind.

“When are we getting married Al? What about in two months time?….as she went she turned to wave to me, I was relieved to be alone, as I watched her floating off in her blue dress, I wished she’d disappear, evaporate, that we’d never met.”***

At the same time he is is living with his alcoholic and verbally abusive mother who tells him

” The worst thing that could happen to me Al, is that you have a child, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for that proliferation of evil.”***

Thirdly he is investigating the hippy culture, picking up hitch-hikers to better understand them but his killing instincts are never far from the surface as he analyses this meeting with one hiker

“But that wish to kill was one of those that you never carry out, she sensed that I wanted to, that I was capable of it, and she delighted in it because she had no wish to hang on to her miserable life, the man that wanted to kill but didn’t dare, the woman who wanted to die without daring to***”

The book then races to its inevitable end.
You may not not have heard of it or read it, but go out and buy it now!

Published in French as “Avenue des Géants” by Gallimard in 2013
Translated into English by Howard Curtis and published as “The Avenue of The Giants” by Europa Editions in 2014
***My translation

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