One evening, he’d imagined a bank job in front of the other two sat on the sofa. He’d pulled one of Corinne’s stockings over his head, waving about as if he had a shotgun. There’d be two motorbikes, one of them would be burnt at the bank, then everyone would head of into another county. He’d seen it in an american film. Rambouille shrugged his shoulders: “You don’t even have a bike license.”***
This book, my tenth read for the Prix du Roman de Rochefort 2021, is based on another true story, investigated by Florence Aubenas. In a small town in the Bugey region of France where everybody knows everybody, and the only employment in the area is ensured by the “Plastic Valley” which originally developed in the sixties and seventies in mostly family businesses with little investment or health standards. Unemployment is high as is petty crime. The postmistress is found murdered in her micro post office. At once the thought is that the murderer must be an outsider, but as none is found suspicion falls slowly falls on a marginal character, living in a run down flat opposite the post office, “the actor”, Thomassin. The opening quote of him showing his friends how he would carry out a robbery was later brought against him in the case:
Aubenas tells the story of Thomassin and his band of friends, Thomassin had been brought up from foster home to foster home, with his brother Jerôme before being discovered at a casting by a french film director looking for someone who really looked that they could live the part of the rough character in a film, a film for which he won the major award of the year for a promising young actor. But with no real outside support he was happy to show off to his friends in his housing estate and easily spent all of his money. A pattern he was to repeat with each of his following more and more spaced apart films until we find him living in Bugey where he had once been weaned off drugs by a childhood friend. As after the murder the police were listening in on his phone calls, they hear him, drunk, talking to his brother about his youth:
Thomassin dials Jerôme’s number…..”at mother Picolo’s place, her son forced us to do blow jobs, we were raped.” He said “I lost my virginity when I was eight”.***
The story is a series of tragedies. The micro post office only existed because the father of Catherine Burgod, the dead woman, had been mayor for a number of years and had used his influence to keep the agency open for his daughter. Thomassin’s friends all die from substance abuse and Thomassin himself is incarcerated for several years awaiting trial before being freed when the law would not let them keep him inside any longer without trial. France’s current justice minister, a previous famous barrister had taken up his case. This was when Florence Aubenas first heard of Thomassin:
The First time I heard of Thomassin was from a Casting Director he’d worked with at the start of his acting career. She showed me some of the letters he had sent her from prison.***
Florence Aubenas keeps us on tack with this interesting read full of detailed background on each of the characters, fascinating from start to end.
First Published in french as “L’inconnu de la poste” in 2021, by L’Olivier*** my translation
The quotes as read in French before translation
Un soir, il a imaginé un braquage devant les deux autres posés sur son canapé. Il s’était enfilé un vieux bas de Corinne sur le visage, gesticulant comme avec un fusil. Il y aurait deux motos, dont l’une serait brûlée sur place, puis tout le monde se replierait dans un autre département. Il avait vu le truc dans un film américain. Rambouille avait haussé les épaules: “T’as même pas le permis.”
Thomassin compose le numéro de Jérôme……”Chez la mère Picolo, son fils nous obligeait à faire des fellations, nous avons été violés.” Il dit: “moi j’ai été dépucelé à huit ans”.
La première fois que j’ai entendu parler de Thomassin, c’était par une directrice de casting avec qui il avait travaillé á ses débuts d’acteur. Elle m’avait montré quelques-unes des lettres qu’il lui avait envoyées de prison.