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The Moment Before Drowning


In 1959, a French Resistance hero investigates a murder in a small Breton town, while awaiting his own trial.

$25.95 $19.46

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What people are saying…

“Brydon’s provocative and unsettling first novel . . . is a remarkably assured debut by a gifted new writer.”
Publishers Weekly, STARRED Review, Pick of the week

“An exploration of political oppression wrapped in a carefully constructed mystery. In Brydon’s auspicious debut . . . the characters are alive and the mystery is mostly satisfying. An erudite and entertaining addition to the shelf.”
Kirkus Reviews

The Moment Before Drowning is a highly lyrical novel. Brydon’s prose is exquisite, and he certainly knows how to set a scene.”
New York Journal of Books

Included in CBC Radio’s The Homestretch’s Fall 2019 Mystery Selections

“A skillfully constructed and absolutely riveting thriller of a novel by a genuine master of character and narrative driven storytelling, James Brydon’s The Moment Before Drowning is an especially recommended addition to community library collections.
Midwest Book Review

“Brydon’s The Moment Before Drowning is one of the season’s most remarkable debuts and the launch of a complex and truly memorable protagonist, Captain Jacques le Garrec, a lion of the French Resistance, now disgraced by his intelligence service in Algeria and returned to his hometown in Brittany, where he’s promptly charged with investigating a cold case murder. Le Garrec has stepped directly out of a Jean-Pierre Melville film and into a seaside murder mystery, a noir and ambiguous figure setting out to right wrongs in a world ever more unknowable.”
CrimeReads, 10 Debut Crime Novels to Read This July

“James Brydon’s brilliant The Moment Before Drowning isn’t an easy read. Not because of its style, which is sensuous and elegant, but because of its subject matter: the brutality behind war’s front lines . . . After reading The Moment Before Drowning, dedicated readers might want to watch the award-winning docudrama The Battle of Algiers, which covers much of the same territory as Brydon’s heart-wrenching novel.”
Mystery Scene Magazine

“The ending, whilst not the one that might have been expected, is one that has occurred many times in literature of all kinds but it doesn’t seem in any way hackneyed. This is because the author has taken the trouble to detail the psychology involved in the murder and convinces us that what happened was a consequence of an aspect of human nature that never changes.”
Crime Review (UK)

“A stunning and intelligent debut novel; powerful, intense and raw.”
Nudge-Book UK

“Brydon packs in so much emotion, suspense, tension and heartbreak. This story literally took my breath away . . . This author is one to be reckoned with and I hope his next literary work will be published soon. Most highly recommended.”
Marjorie’s World of Books

“From the Battle of Algiers, to the austere abutments of the Brittany coast, The Moment Before Drowning is a carefully weighted novel that strips the glamour from what people can do without ever simplifying the reasons why they do it. An engrossing and expansive tale.”
—Luke McCallin, author of The Ashes of Berlin

“This book haunted me—the protagonist’s moral conflict is so poignant, the writing is luminescent, and the postwar French and Algerian landscapes are immaculately drawn. Take a bit of Albert Camus, mix in some Nobel Prize–winning Patrick Modiano, add a dollop of French noir, and voilà, you have James Brydon’s The Moment Before Drowning.
Denise Hamilton, author of Damage Control

“After spending two years in Algeria with the French military, Jacques le Garrec, a Resistance hero and former detective, returns home in disgrace to a desolate snow-laden seacoast village in Brittany to await his own trial for a horrific incident that occurred during his time in Algeria. . . What seems a deceptive title becomes a metaphor for le Garrec’s journey in The Moment Before Drowning—a gripping, atmospheric, submersive novel that is deeply layered and delicately nuanced. I couldn’t put this book down.”
—Cara Black, author of Murder in Saint-Germain


December 1959: A furious anticolonial war rages in Algeria. Captain Jacques le Garrec, a former detective and French Resistance hero, returns to France in disgrace. Traumatized after two years of working in the army intelligence services, he’s now accused of a brutal crime.

As le Garrec awaits trial in the tiny Breton town where he grew up, he is asked to look into a disturbing and unsolved murder committed the previous winter. A local teenage girl was killed and her bizarrely mutilated body was left displayed on the heathland in a way that no one could understand.

Le Garrec’s investigations draw him into the dark past of the town, still haunted by memories of the German occupation. As he tries to reconstruct the events of the murder, the violence of this crime and his recollections of Algeria intertwine, threatening to submerge him.

Read the interview and feature on the Guardian‘s Crossword Blog.

Read an interview with James Brydon at Paul Semel’s website.

Read guest posts from James Brydon on Writers Read and at the Page 69 Test.

James Brydon created an original crossword puzzle for CrimeReadscheck it out here!

Book Details

  • Hardcover: 300 pages
  • Published: 7/3/18
  • IBSN: 9781617756252
  • e-IBSN: 9781617756528


JAMES BRYDON grew up in North Shropshire, England, and studied English at Oxford. For over a decade, he has worked as a cryptic crossword setter. Under the name Picaroon, he sets two puzzles a month in the Guardian, and he compiles for the Spectator, the Times of London, and the fiendish Listener puzzle, drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as the films of Akira Kurosawa and the six-fold symmetry of snowflakes. He is fluent in French and Serbian, is currently polishing his German, and can hold a conversation in passable Chinese. He lives in St. Albans, England, with his wife and daughter. The Moment Before Drowning is his debut novel.

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