Created by Eric Leclere
“The Lost Son was not written for the book establishment to sanction, censure or kill. Books are for reading, and we feel the public should be given a chance to do just that.”
—the author explains why he was giving away his book.
Speaking of British crime flicks (well, I was when this was first posted!), I just rented The Lost Son, a flawed but enjoyably nasty little slice of noir about XAVIER LOMBARD, a seedy French P.I. based in London butting heads with a kiddie prostitution ring. It stars Daniel Auteuil, in his first English-speaking role, and he does the world-weary gumshoe thing pretty well–chain-smoking, in need of a shave, full of all that brooding, dark, rumpled Gallic charm.
He’s a disgraced Parisian cop with a past he’d rather not talk about, living alone with his goldfish in a suitably desparate Soho flat, eking out a living snapping photos of cheating spouses, and sometimes blackmailing them. He hits up a straying wife for a bigger fee than her husband is paying him (although he collects that, too, telling the hubby he didn’t find out anything) and then justifies himself to her, by reminding her that “I just saved your marriage.” His best friend is Nathalie (played by Nastassja Kinski), a French hooker he knew in Paris.
Lombard’s London is a few cry from the trendy, touristy fairy-tale London that has popped up in such sunny fare such as Notting Hill. Lombard’s London is filthy and rundown, and crawling with dirty secrets. The other settings, a bleak, desolate chunk of the British Coast, and a sun-parched Mexican ranch set in the middle of a hellish nowhere, are equally well-used.
The film (actually an Anglo-French co-production) is a bit of a mess at times, overly long, and it runs out of steam near the end, losing the noirish mood completely by trying for a big Hollywood style shoot-em-up finale, but other parts are pitch-black perfect.
Although it treads some of the same ground as voyeuristic 8MM, I preferred this one. It’s unpleasant as hell at times, but it feels real. When we finally come face to face with the evil here, we’re supposed to be disgusted, not feel like we’re geting a cheap thrill, sneaking a peek at something naughty. And the violence, when it comes, is brutal and shocking, a nice change from the cartoon-like stuff we get served up so often.
So imagine my surprise when I discovered that The Lost Son was not an original screenplay at all, but was actually based on a 1999 novel by Eric Leclere, which has a rather twisted story of its own. You can read the whole sordid tale of creative differences, broken promises, backstabbing, credit disputes and other treacheries at the author’s Alibi Books Web Site. Seems the author was more than a little pissed off at a few folks in the film and publishing worlds, and for a while offered the book free for download from the site. “Give it away and be damned!” was his motto.
If you liked the character (Leclere describes him as “a man of laconic disposition not immune to beauty’s seduction”), or the film, or even if you didn’t, you might find it worth your while to check out the Film/Interview page on the site. Phrases like “intellectual rape” got bandied about, and there’s much snorting and thumping of chests.
But more encouraging was that Leclere rose above it–the long-delayed second Lombard novel (well, that’s how it’s billed), originally titled What If They Like It? but subsequently retitled A Place of Gardens and Lilies, was published in May 2005, although Lombard only appears obliquely as a voice on the phone.
But in April 2023, Lombard was back, in the very long-awaited The Harvesters.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eric Leclere was born in Paris, and grew up in France, Belgium and Israel before settling in the U.K. in the 1980s. He has worked as a chef, arestaurant manager, a motorcycle dispatch rider, a market stall-holder, a translator, a painter, a decorator and a screenwriter and novelist. The Lost Son was the first of what he intends to be six novels featuring Xavier Lombard. Intriguingly, although he’s French, Leclere writes in English.
The film The Lost Son which was released in Europe in early summer 1999 was based on Leclere’s 1995 original screenplay, written in collaboration with his wife Margaret. This early 237-page draft was picked up on completion by director/cinematographer Chris Menges and in January 1996 Leclere sold an option to the work to Scala Productions. By then, having started the novel, he had also secured a publisher (Serpent’s Tail) for the story on the strength of its
first three chapters. And then the fun started…
- “We’re so alike, Xavier, sometimes I wonder which of us is uglier.”
— Nathalie to Xavier
- “… Absolutely compelling … Eric Leclere’s hard-to-put-down novel … is a hymn to lost innocence, written with intelligence and flair…”
— Julia Pascal (The Jewish Chronicle [London]) on the novel The Lost Son
- “This by-the-pulses thriller by a talented new writer promises a body of work that will provide a new generation with maximum satisfaction.”
— Robert Stone on the novel The Lost Son
- “The Lost Son is a compelling, repellent film, with its refusal to shy away from certain taboo subjects commendable but also frequently unpalatable….(Lombard’s) one man mission to eradicate this filth from the face of the planet (is) a tough and unlikely task, the least convincing aspect of a solid script. That Menges felt it necessary to counter the film’s initial clandestine violence with its more conventional gun-toting denouement is perhaps symptomatic of Europe’s desire to reap Hollywood box-office action, though thankfully its effect on this intelligent thriller is minimal.”
— IMBD on the film
- The Lost Son (1999; AKA “Xavier Lombard et Le Fils Perdu”) | Buy this book
- A Place of Gardens and Lilies ( 2005) | Buy this book
- The Harvesters (2023) | Buy this book
- THE LOST SON | Buy this DVD
(1999, Columbia Tristar/United International)
Screenplay by Eric Leclere and Margaret Leclere, Mark Mills
Directed by Chris Menges
Cinematography by Barry Ackroyd
Original music by Goran Bregovic
Executive producers: Georges Benayoun , Nik Powell, Sarah Radclyffe, Paul Cowan, Stephen Woolley
Associate Producer: Judy Menges
Co-Producer: Marina Gefter
Assistant Producer: Polly Duval
Starring Daniel Auteuil as XAVIER LOMBARD
Also starring Nastassja Kinski, Katrin Cartlidge, Ciarán Hinds, Marianne Denicourt, Bruce Greenwood, Billie Whitelaw, Cyril Shaps, Jamie Harris, Hemal Pandya, Billy Smyth, Cal Macaninch, Mark Benton
- The Alibi Books Web Site
Whadda ya do when you can’t get any justice? You take the law into your own hands, that’s what. Eric Leclere gave away the first Lomard novel for free here as a pdf download for a while, and explained why. You can also read the original screenplay by Leclere and his wife.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Margret Brooks for the scoop.