15 keys to One Green Bottle. N° 5: The killer’s criteria.
The only thing the victims appeared to have in common was that they lived in remote areas. She hadn’t visited Wallenheim, where Roncet lived, but according to Roudy, he had no immediate neighbours. The nearest house to the Terrals’ was a good 200 metres away and as for Enzo, it would have been difficult to find a more isolated spot. Given that all three murders occurred in winter, under cover of dark, the chances of being spotted were slim. Was that the main criterion?
Once upon a foolish time, I dreamt of renovating a house. Every few miles as we drove round France, I would point to a pile of rubble and say to Mrs B., ‘That one looks nice. Wonderful view. Must be dirt cheap, as well.’ I never did though – even back then, I must have had a nanogram of lucidity. Or else Mrs. B. reminded me of the flaking plaster, lopsided shelves and faulty wiring back home. And that in turn reminded me of the fits of rage I never failed to succumb to twenty minutes in to DIY.
One of the many pleasures of writing is that you can imagine characters who do all sorts of things you could never do. Not just unsavoury things like kill people for the sake of it, but things you would gladly do if you had the skill. Magali, for example, paints. And Enzo Perle (before an unsavoury character came along) was doing up a lovely house in the Cévennes.
I have so many favourite places in France that it’s difficult to choose a top one, but if I had to, it would no doubt be the Cévennes. Perhaps because it reminds me a bit of Wales, only emptier and with a climate more extreme. When we lived in Montpellier, we explored every inch. The watershed line runs through it: to the north it drains to the Loire, to the south the Mediterranean. The vegetation changes depending what side you’re on: leafy, pastoral, gathered in thickets and woods; or prickly and tough, tenaciously clinging to rocks. Montpellier is the only place I’ve been where your children can build a snowman and a sandcastle in the same day.
And the villages are remote, which of course is crucial for a serial killer looking for another victim. I never did buy that ruin but when it came to a setting for murder, I had no trouble digging it out of my memory and renovating it. Without getting into a temper. Why, I didn’t even need any tools.
Murder number two, the Terrals, took place near Royan, Charente Maritime, in the west. Flat, marshy, misty, watered by rain from the Atlantic. I’ve driven through it a lot but only stayed a couple of times. In summer it’s bright and warm, but come the autumn and you’ll leave Charente with a memory of mud and fog. At least, that’s how it was the night of the murder. Mud all over the place. Footprints on the stairs, in the bedrooms, everywhere. Careless for a killer, don’t you think? Or was it?
Finally, there’s Wallenheim in Alsace. I can’t say much about that because I’ve never been there. But you don’t always have to – the village itself is evoked in a couple of lines and the rest takes place in Roncet’s house. I know it’s remote, though, because I found it on Google Earth. Now there’s a killer app if ever there was one.
This series of keys to One Green Bottle provides background information about the process of writing it.
Key n° 1: The setting: Sentabour.
Key n° 2: The main character: Magali.
Key n° 3: Grief personified: Charlotte.
Key n° 4: The painter of Provence: Cézanne.