Severe is a classic "noir" crime novel, dealing with some very dark themes, notably the murder of a wealthy banker by his mistress. It is based on the murder of Édouard Stern, a personal friend of Nicolas Sarkozy with a taste for sado-masochism, who was found shot dead in his apartment wearing a head-to-toe latex cat-suit. The murderer, Cécile Brossard, was sentenced to eight years in prison but was freed on parole after five years in 2010. The book is written in the first person by the Brossard character, and is a very stylish read. It grabs your attention from the first paragraph, which describes the murder in a few sparse sentences.
The mistress has a complex life. She is a part-time call girl with an eye for the main chance - and a wealthy banker is about as much of a main chance as she could expect to find. She has a husband at home who seems to be quite happy for his wife to do whatever she wants so long as it brings in the money. The banker has some very strange habits and although these are not described in too much detail we quickly get a picture of a relationship based on violence and sexual perversion (knives and guns feature throughout their love-making). The banker gives the call-girl one million dollars but he seems to have had second thoughts on the matter and has somehow grabbed it back from her bank account. Our narrator is not a little upset by this action!
Before long, the crime is committed and the mistress goes on the run. We read an account of her agonisingly long flight to Sydney, Australia during which she is trapped sitting next to a fat man who tries to come on to her throughout the journey (he doesn't know of course how lucky he is that she spurns his invitations!).
When eventually she is caught and tried, the woman realises the effect on the banker's family of the exposure of his hidden life, for after all, this was not a normal affair, but a dark and dangerous business.
The book is very cleverly written with a sparse, raw style that matches the content. I managed to find a 2009 article in the Daily Mail which describes Cécile Brossard as having "stirred up the fantasies of a 50-year-old man, who became dependent on a sexually deviant little blonde from the suburbs". It has been adapted for the screen as Une Histoire d'Amour and is due for release in the UK and Irleand this year.