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by Pierre Lemaitre

The year is 1918, the war on the Western Front all but over. An ambitious officer, Lieutenant Henry D'Aulnay-Pradelle, sends two soldiers over the top and then surreptitiously shoots them in the back to incite his men to attack the German lines.

When another of D'Aulnay-Pradelle's soldiers, Albert Maillard, reaches the bodies and discovers how they died, the lieutenant shoves him into a shell hole to silence him. Albert is rescued by fellow soldier, the artist Édouard Péricourt, who takes a bullet in the face. The war ends and both men recover, but Édouard is permanently disfigured, and fakes his death to prevent his family from seeing him as a cripple. In gratitude for Édouard's rescue, Albert becomes the injured man's companion and caregiver.

Finding that the postwar gratitude for the soldiers' service is nothing more than lip-service to an empty idea, the two men scramble to survive, ultimately devising a scam to take money for never-to-be-built war memorials from small towns. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Pradelle has married Édouard's sister Madeline and is running a scam of his own that involves the exhumation of war victims.

In this sorrowful, heart-searching novel, the interwoven lives of these three men create a tapestry of the human condition as seen through the lens of war, revealing brutality and compassion, heroism and cowardice, in equal measure.


"Mr. Lemaitre's background in crime fiction shows through in the intricate plotting and suspenseful pacing of THE GREAT SWINDLE, which at times reads like a thriller. Its characters harbor so many secrets that part of the enjoyment in the book comes from seeing how the author plans to disentangle them.”
—Sarah Lyall, The New York Times

"Lemaitre's tale is carefully researched, and most of the story's value lies in its historical authenticity…the battlefield and hospital scenes convey Lemaitre's mastery of imagery.”
Kirkus Reviews

"[An] assured, somber exploration of post-WWI French society…Lemaitre captures the venal capitalism of the postwar period…Despite his unscrupulous scheme, Édouard proves impossible to dislike. His determination to play a great trick on the society that betrayed him is infectious, and readers cannot help rooting for his plans as they reach their dark, bizarrely joyous fruition.”
Publishers Weekly

"A fast-paced tale, filled with twists and turns, following a mischievous, disillusioned view of post-war France.”
—Astrid de Larminat, Figaro

"A masterly epic of post-war France, where impostures triumph and capitalists grow rich from the ruins.”
—Macha Sery, La Monde

"Its themes connect elegantly with its action…a striking critique of a grieving nation's desire to prettify its past.”
Times Literary Supplement

"Pierre Lemaitre breaks the elitist mould with passion, clarity, and originality…moving, angry, intelligent—and compelling.”
—Marcel Berlins, The Times