An Exploration of Grief and Violence

Seven Days by Patrick Senécal

A Book Review by Rich Duncan

Horror will always be my first love when it comes to genre fiction, but over the past few years I have found myself equally drawn to the worlds of crime, noir and the occasional thriller. There is a lot of overlap between the two genres and occasionally they will intermingle, and the allure of this combination is hard to resist. That’s one of the reasons why this year I made it a personal goal to cover more works from those genres. The first crime book I have on deck is Patrick Senécal’s Seven Days, which was originally published in Canada in a French language edition.

Seven Days follows the story of Dr. Bruno Hamel, whose life is changed forever one Fall day when he realizes his seven-year-old daughter Jasmine is late getting home from school. At first he isn’t worried as he figures she’s probably just at a friend’s house. After exhausting all rational possibilities, Bruno finally calls the police. They head over to the school to investigate and that’s when one of the officers makes a horrifying discovery. Jasmine was raped and murdered and the news shatters the lives of both Bruno and his partner Sylvie. Overcome with grief, he plans to get his revenge against the man accused of killing his daughter. What follows is a brutal, visceral story of one man’s descent into coping with his loss and trying to make sense of a horrifying situation.

As a parent, this book was a very emotional read that was difficult to get through at times. Not because of any issues with the writing, but because it was too easy to imagine myself in Bruno’s situation. It was easy for me to identify with Bruno initially because there is no doubt in my mind that under similar circumstances, my anger would absolutely overwhelm me and there is no question that I would want to make the person responsible pay. I think that’s a very common reaction readers will have throughout the course of the novel. Senécal knows this and does a masterful job of tapping into that raw, visceral reaction and using it to drive the story and engage readers.

As news of Bruno’s exploits reach the media, it creates a strong divide in the local community and raises some important philosophical questions. The reactions are split between those who applaud Bruno for taking matters into his own hands and theoretically dealing out a punishment more deserving of the crime committed and those who denounce his actions and believe it should be handled by law enforcement. Sure, Bruno believes that exacting his brand of violent retribution may bring him some measure of comfort, but will it really? He is driven solely by rage, grief and a visceral reaction to the most devastating loss imaginable. But the reality is he isn’t some hardened killer, he’s an average family man who was a known pacifist and has never hurt someone in his entire life. Even though we all may secretly think we would be able to take matters into our own hands, sometimes it’s not that simple. What kind of impact would inflicting a high degree or violence on another person do to our psyche? Senécal explores that quandary with a lot of nuance through the various characters impacted by this tragedy.

This book is definitely horrific as some of the violence is enough to cause readers to flinch. I won’t venture into specifics, but of instances were pretty cringe inducing and fully exemplify that sometimes people are the scariest monsters of all with the level of terror and pain they are willing to inflict on other people. While Seven Days is firmly rooted in the horrors of the real world, Senécal does mix in a bit of psychological horror that adds a vaguely supernatural element. Throughout the story, Bruno is plagued by a frightening noise. Is this part of something supernatural happening or simply the result of one man losing the grip on his sanity due to the crushing grief he has to come to terms with? The answer may surprise a lot of readers, but I felt like it was an effective plot device that really hammered home some of the central themes of the book.

There is also some interesting character work that goes into play that is amplified by the tragedy, but not necessarily stemming from it. Early in the novel, we learn that Bruno and Sylvie’s relationship has changed dramatically in the years they have been together. Not out of any anger or betrayal, but their relationship simply grew stagnant due to the habits they have developed over time. Although they never really talked about it, Jasmine’s death only made those issues come to the forefront. Sylvie seeks the comfort of trying to get closer to Bruno and that is her way to cope, but Bruno totally shuts himself off from the world. These scenes are great because they highlight all of the different responses people can have to grief that stems from the same event. Some people may get full of rage, depressed or look for something comfortable and familiar to try to get through it. Sylvie handles her grief in a more traditional way, but she can see in Bruno’s strange behavior and his distant nature that something has changed in him, possibly forever. Shes scared of these changes as she hardly recognizes the man he’s become. I also really enjoyed the scenes with Detective Sergeant Hervé Mercure. He has his own demons that make him uniquely qualified to handle Bruno’s case and I loved the way Senécal used Mercure and portrayed the complex sort of relationship he has with Bruno as he delves deeper into the case. I wish he had a slightly larger role in the novel and maybe had more interactions with Bruno, but he is still a great character that serves an important role in the larger narrative of Seven Days. 

Structurally, Seven Days is a bit of an interesting novel. A lot of novels I have read that have similar plots often times have the hunt for the killer be the main focus. However, in this novel, the killer is captured by police fairly quickly and uneventfully. The bulk of the action in this story comes from Bruno setting his plan into motion and the events that occur once he begins carrying it out. I thought that was a unique approach that helped create a pretty fast pace. It also helped amplify the tension since readers will already have an idea of all the major players in the story, but don’t know the full extent of their interactions and what could happen. If I had one complaint about the book, it would be that Bruno’s revenge plan stretches the boundaries of believability. Sure, he has vast financial resources at his disposal due to his profession, but some of the tactics he employs seem a bit advanced for an average person. It isn’t impossible that he would have this knowledge, but it does seem a bit far-fetched.

Seven Days is a bleak book that deals with some very heavy themes, but it’s one that I enjoyed immensely. It feels kind of weird saying that – you’ll know why when you read it – but the truth is, I could hardly put this book down once I got started. Senécal taps right into the darkest parts of the human psyche and is able to get readers to question their own beliefs as they follow Bruno’s quest for vengeance. This is his first work to be translated to English and I hope there is more to follow soon because his blend of dark fiction is incredibly addictive. 


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