Rebecca & Lucie in the Case of the Missing Neighbor by Pascal Girard review – postpartum PI

I’m going to be honest: I only started reading Rebecca & Lucie in the Case of the Missing Neighbor because it was small enough to slip into the bag I happened to be carrying (I like a clutch almost as much as I like a comic). But on the tube, I found myself charmed. Though it won’t be for everyone, Pascal Girard’s little book works because it carefully treads the wobbly line between children’s and adult fiction. If it’s a bit silly – woman on maternity leave decides to solve murder case – it also has smart things to say about the conflicts involved in new motherhood, when fierce love and deathly boredom can often be found wrestling each other to the ground.

Rebecca is at home in Montreal with eight-month-old Lucie, her first baby; it won’t be long before she must go back to work. She likes her life – she tells her husband that she doesn’t want her maternity leave to end – but there’s no doubting, too, that she wouldn’t mind some excitement. An endless round of fitness classes, lattes with women from her childbirth group and visiting potential nursery schools isn’t quite enough for her. She has a certain postpartum energy, but nowhere to deploy it. In the park, where she and other mothers do squats next to their buggies, she’s the one who chases down the guy in the long grass who’s surreptitiously filming them on his mobile phone (to a round of applause). Her brain needs some exercise, as well as her body.

A page from Rebecca & Lucie in the Case of the Missing Neighbor.
A page from Rebecca & Lucie in the Case of the Missing Neighbor. Illustration: Pascal Girard

In a cafe, she hears of a missing local: Eduardo Morales, a man of Mexican origin, who has been working as a carer to an elderly couple (Rebecca is an expert eavesdropper). Could this be the distraction she needs? Having talked to the policeman who’s leading the investigation into his disappearance – his manner is not exactly urgent – Rebecca decides to take up the case herself. She will talk to Morales’s employers. She will draw up a list of suspects and interview them. She will find him, dead or alive. In her sling, Lucie will provide great cover: who could possibly be threatened by a woman with such a cutie as a sidekick? The baby will also serve as the reason for her mother’s growing distraction, and for a trip north to pursue a lead (Lucie’s paternal grandparents live conveniently close by).

All this is quite delightful, and if the mystery is solved with a little too much ease, the book affords other, smaller pleasures along the way: I liked the scene in which Rebecca delivers a blow-by-blow account of Lucie’s birth to her group, each frame drawn in fiery red by Girard. Some readers (though not me) might find his story somewhat presumptuous: what does he know about kegel exercises and sore breasts, after all? But Rebecca’s husband, Pascal, is (it soon becomes obvious) a thinly disguised version of the author: he works as a social worker, a job Girard also does part-time. It seems pretty clear that Rebecca is a version of his wife, and that this sweet, funny book is a tribute to her courage, her determination and, above all, her wit.

Rebecca & Lucie in the Case of the Missing Neighbor by Pascal Girard is published by Drawn and Quarterly (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply


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