The Devil's Choir by Martin Michaud (translated by Arthur Holden) is an intricate, intense mystery from the acclaimed “master of the Quebec thriller,” the ghosts of Victor Lessard’s past come back to haunt him as he investigates a horrific murder-suicide that doesn’t add up. Available on October 26th, this book makes for the perfect end to spooky season.
The bayonet plunges into a swamp of entrails.
Dulled at first, the pain takes a moment to arrive. The blood glides over his skin.
Clutching the handle, young Carbonneau stares at his abdomen as though it were an oddity, and suddenly understands the meaning of what he’s just done.
The boy who probed his thoughts is observing him closely. The other one, the Asian, is keeping his distance. Young Carbonneau’s screams bounce off the bedroom walls and wash over the astronauts on the wallpaper.
How could he have let himself be talked into this?
The seven-year-old boy watches through the window as the wind shakes the trees’ high branches. Ice crystals whirl in the air, settling on the ground in a carpet of frost.
He puts on his duffle coat and woollen toque, then slips his sheet music into his knapsack. As he goes down the stairs to the main door, he glances toward the nave. It’s almost empty. Only a few worshippers are still kneeling there. Among them is a woman in a fur coat who seems to be praying fervently.
Her lips are moving in silence.
He can’t hear her. He doesn’t know her. But he does know that she’s asking God to forgive her sins and watch over her husband, who is gravely ill. He also knows that the husband will die in the next few hours.
The Mass was magnificent, as it is every Sunday. The sermon was stirring.
He loves singing in the choir.
Despite his young age, he’s learned all the pieces with ease. The parish priest, who directs choir rehearsals, is always choosing him to sing the solos.
He’s about to leave the building when someone calls out. “Just a minute, my boy. I’d like you to meet someone.”
He doesn’t need to look to know who the speaker is: he recognizes the priest’s voice.
Without a word, the boy follows him to the sacristy. Another man in a cassock is waiting for them.
The priest says the man’s name, but the boy pays no attention to such details.
He looks into the eyes of the new arrival, as he does whenever he meets someone for the first time.
In this case, he sees nothing.
The conversation drags on. The boy is tired. He wants to go home.
He isn’t scared that his mother might worry — if she were still alive, she’d be blind drunk by now, sprawled at the bar in one of the many watering holes on 3rd Avenue — but the man in the cassock isn’t letting up. He peppers the boy with questions.
At last, the interview ends.
The priest gives him some candies in a kraft paper bag.
Despite the lash of the cold air, the boy strides without haste toward the youth centre where he lives.
At the window, the man in the cassock watches him walk away through the snow.
He’s the one.
So much weight on such frail shoulders.
May 12th, 2008
“Death is worth living through.”
I heard that sentence a few hours ago. Take it from me, a statement like that makes you freeze. It encrusts itself on your consciousness. The man who spoke those words has vanished. Lucky for him. If I got my hands on him, I’d show no mercy. For starters, I’d pistolwhip him in the mouth, knocking his teeth out. Then, with the barrel of my Glock tickling the back of his throat, I’d coldly squeeze the trigger.
As I watched his brains splatter the walls and his dark soul slip out through the window, I’d say in a casual voice:
“Death is worth living through.” Thus endeth the lesson.
I’m awake again.
I know exactly what’s happening. I can see the ambulance attendants working feverishly. They’ve pulled out all the stops: IV tube, catheter, oxygen mask. There’s already something cadaverous about my pallor.
I can’t speak.
In medical jargon, I’m in a state of shock.
That’s how one of the attendants described me as he talked to someone on the phone.
The ambulance is racing through the night, siren howling, headlight beams stippled by the rain.
The rain …
For seven days, Montreal’s been caught in a ceaseless downpour.
Tempers are frayed. Everyone feels sticky.
When will it end?
My leg is in bad shape.
I can see a twisted bone poking through mangled flesh.
The attendants have managed to stop the bleeding, but the short one tells his partner that the leg may have to be amputated. They think I can’t hear. They think I’m out cold. I’ve just closed my eyes to cope with the searing pain.
I’ll need all my strength later on.
And nobody’s going to amputate my leg. I’ll kill the first guy who tries.
I can’t feel anything anymore.
Not the pain, not my body, not the sting of ammonia hanging in the air.
I open my eyes. Blood has soaked through the dressing on my leg. That can’t be good.
Does a person know when he’s going to die?
Do the body’s restraints fall away little by little as the spirit slides into the reaper’s endless embrace?
The ambulance attendants look at me. “We’re losing him,” the short one says. I can feel my heart slowing down.
“Hang on, Lessard,” the tall one says. “We’re almost at the hospital.”
I know, I know …
You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this mess. It all started seven days ago. In the rain.
Read the full chapter on Issu here!
Martin Michaud is a bestselling author, screenwriter, musician, and former lawyer. His critically acclaimed Victor Lessard series has won numerous awards, including the Arthur Ellis Award and the Prix Saint-Pacôme for Crime Fiction, and is the basis for the award-winning French-language TV series Victor Lessard. He lives in Montreal.