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I looked around at the library last week for a Europa Editions book, giving myself permission not to choose one if there wasn’t something that interested me. Laurence Cosse‘s An Accident In August looking appealing, so I decided to try it and keep up with the 2012 Europa Challenge.

I’m glad I did. For the first time in a few months I can say I really liked my challenge book. When the novel opens, Lou (short for Louise), has just pulled into her garage in her white Fiat Uno, and she is very shaken. She’s just been part of an accident in Paris in the Alma tunnel; a Mercedes barreled into the tunnel behind her at top speed and scraped her car before crashing spectacularly into a pillar. She had reacted in a panic, driving straight out of the tunnel and home. Lou is trying to calm down and deal with the fact that she should have stopped, and that she could be charged with failure to assist at the scene of the crash.

Then she turns on her radio in the bathroom and realizes not only was she involved in a horrible crash, but also the victims of the incident are none other than Lady Diana and Dodi Fayed and their driver. What was already upsetting becomes Lou’s obsession. She gets through the rest of the weekend pretending to be ill, and then takes her car to a different town on Monday to have the taillight and paint repaired.

But even with the Fiat patched up she is unable to think about anything else. She’s afraid she’ll be arrested and that the press will make a spectacle of her. She tries to just go on, but can’t stop thinking about getting rid of the car and running away. Her employer and her boyfriend both notice how strange she’s acting; she finally feels she really has to act.

She’s about to leave her apartment, with a somewhat amateur plan to ditch the Fiat and go away, when a mechanic from the garage appears. He’s put two and two together and he wants a cut of the money and fame Lou could achieve selling her story to the press. He kidnaps her, telling Lou he has all the evidence that her car needed repairs just a couple of days after the crash, and she has to do what he says.

I don’t want to give away the rest of the story, but will just say it wasn’t what I expected. An Accident In August succeeds as a psychological thriller even though I could not really understand why Lou didn’t just come forward immediately, tell the police the car hit her and that she was so startled she drove off, in shock. Given the details in the news — that there were hordes of paparazzi in several cars — she could probably have escaped serious prosecution if she simply admitted being afraid.

At any rate, Cosse wrote an interesting tale, and it made for entertaining reading. The setting in and around Paris and the fact that I remember the general and widespread hysteria surrounding Diana’s death added to my enjoyment of the book, not because I liked reading about the tragedy, but because I can recall a person I knew who followed every detail of the crash and investigation, like one of Lou’s co-workers. Also in May when we met up with Teen the Elder after his gap year, I saw the Dodi & Diana memorial at Harrod‘s and a display in Kensington Palace about Diana’s dresses, so I’d actually thought about her death again recently.

I’d recommend An Accident In August as a light but well-written thriller with a strong psychological aspect to the plot.

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