Book report: Michael Berg ‘A real woman’
A real woman is the third part of Michael Berg, with the presenter at radio station RLP in the French Limousin, Chantal Zwart, as the main character. Chantal learns that editor-in-chief Christophe Bourdes has been hit with fatalities. Somehow she can hardly believe it is a simple accident and starts her own investigation. Which brings her into Christophe’s past and discovers that two of his classmates have also died in recent months. Chantal doubts this is coincidental and discovers there is more to it.
- Main characters
- Symbols and motifs
- Title explanation
- Structure and perspective / way of telling
- Time and place
- Original title: A real woman
- Author: Michael Berg
- Series: Chantal Black (3)
- First edition in Dutch: 2010
- Number of pages: 381
- ISBN: 978-90-443-3765-5
Chantal Zwart has a difficult time when she has to announce the death of Christophe Bourdes during the news overview. Christophe was the editor and director of Radio Limousin Popular where Chantal works. He was run over and died of his injuries. The culprit had not yet been found.
Chantal learns through a witness that he had heard that Christophe was walking his dog like every night. And then he heard a car accelerate and saw headlights, not much later the blow came. The idea that someone had been waiting for Christophe convinces Chantal that he was murdered, while the police are talking about an accident. Convinced that she is right, Chantal cannot resist to investigate herself. Evelyne, her colleague, had shown her a threatening letter found among Christopher’s papers.
When Evelyne has to show the accounts to the chairman of the shareholders, Castelloux, it appears that the radio station has a lot of debts. Christophe had made purchases and hired people without regard to a budget. Evelyne immediately informs Chantal and also shows that she is disappointed with Christophe. She has further evidence that he lied, an invitation to a reunion of a prestigious boarding school, College Privé Sainte Marie. While Christophe had created the impression that he came from a simple environment. Question is why he lied about it.
The tensions can be felt due to the financial problems. Everyone fears for their job. Chantal tries to think about it as little as possible and to make the best of it. She visits Claire, Christophe’s wife, to prepare a report on Christophe. Claire tells her that a few weeks ago Christophe received a funeral card, which affected him.
Chantal discovers that it is about Sebastien Bastet, who, like Christophe, was also an old student of College Privé Sainte Marie. Sebastien was found dead and the police believe it was suicide. Chantal finds it suspicious that two young people died in a short time, under suspicious circumstances and without direct witnesses.
Castelloux comes to the radio station to report that he is stepping down and making way for his son. The radio will continue under a new management, which will look further at which adjustments and cutbacks still need to be made. For Chantal it all goes a little too fast, as if Christophe never existed.
During her search for articles about Sainte Marie, an article attracts her attention. It’s about the disappearance of Manu Chassaing. He was on a drop-off tour organized by the school with three other classmates. At one point they raised the alarm because they couldn’t find Manu anymore. The classmates were Sébastien Bastet, Christophe and Pascal Giverniaud. This cannot be a coincidence, the question is whether Pascal is still alive. She tries to reach him, but soon realizes that the Paris publisher is not so easy to find. When she finally finds him, she finds him dead in his bathtub. It looks like suicide, but Chantal is now definitely convinced it is murder.
During the meeting with Amélie, a childhood friend of Manu, Chantal learns new things. Manu was a sensitive boy and was constantly bullied by his roommates. He also had to do chores for them all the time. Amélie also felt that Manu had been sexually assaulted, but he had never said anything about this. In the summer everything seemed to go well at school and Amélie suspected that he had fallen in love with one of the boys. But the next vacation he was unhappy again, and that was the last time she’d seen him.
While doing her research, she is told by the new management of the radio station that she is getting a new contract with a new task, which is of no interest at all. She takes all her vacation days furiously and refuses the contract and the offered task. She would rather work freelance than be treated this way. But before she worries about it, she goes to Sainte Marie college.
There she heard the story of Isabelle Mounot, through the director, of a young teacher who had not taught there for long and who had also quit her job not much after Manu’s disappearance. Chantal is convinced that Isabelle might be able to help her and visits the woman who has been at home for years due to a depression. During the conversation, Isabelle makes it clear that she hated the guys who were present during Manu’s disappearance. She doesn’t mind that two of them are dead.
Chantal is sure that Isabelle is behind the murders and informs Jean, who himself wants to visit Isabelle. But he has also been busy. A colleague of his had recognized Manu. He is convinced that he had met him in Morocco in 1983. But there his name was Marcel. So there is a good chance that Manu is still alive, as Chantal suspected. Maybe Isabelle and Manu have worked together.
She manages to track down a colleague of Marcel’s. He tells her the things she already knows about him. But also that he wanted to have an operation in France, so that Marcel could continue living as a woman. A few years later, the colleague had received a flyer advertising a performance by Marcella.
Chantal knows she has to go to the college reunion. There is a good chance that Marcella will be there too and then she will finally know what happened. And who is the teacher who had protected him for a while. Because everyone who had known Manu, Marcel or Marcella had talked about a teacher who had a close relationship with Manu. Through all the stories she knows it was about the gym teacher.
At the reunion, she learns that it is the director’s husband that everyone was talking about, Jean-Paul Ducouret. The moment she wants to call Jean to inform him, she comes face to face with Marcella, who has a revolver pointed at her. Chantal notices that Marcella is ill, but somewhere she finds enough strength to take Chantal to the injured and tied up Ducouret. Marcella wants her to interview them both.
Marcella immediately makes it clear that she did not kill the three men. Despite the fact that she had every reason for it. Manu had been caught together with Ducouret by Bastet, who blackmailed Ducouret and his wife. And so Ducouret dropped Manu, giving the boys even more opportunities to make his life miserable. So he had only one option: flee. And he has done that as soon as he got the opportunity.
But that’s not why Marcella wants Chantal to interview them. Ducouret explains to her that Bastet had started blackmailing them back after the reunion invites. He wanted more and more money. As a result, the principal had had enough and asked her husband to stop it. He heard from Bastet that the other two also had copies of the photo, which turned out to be a lie, so Ducouret saw no other solution than to kill the three men.
At that moment, Jean arrives with his colleagues to free Chantal. But before they get in, Marcella kills herself. A few days later, Jean and Chantal end their relationship, because outside of work they have less in common than they expected. But Chantal also gets good news. Everything is back to normal with the radio station, Christophe had done nothing wrong with the money. It had been a way for Castelloux’s son to get an interesting job and send his father away.
Chantal works at Radio Limousin Popular as a journalist. She has a relationship with Jean, who works at the criminal investigation department. Evelyn is her best friend who also works on the radio.
He was forty-two years old and remarried to Claire, together they have a two-year-old daughter Luna.
Manu / Marcel / Marcella
He is a very sensitive boy who has a close relationship with his mother. His father does not believe in the qualities of his son and shows this clearly. Manu is lonely and naive.
Symbols and motifs
Manu is not at all happy at boarding school, where he is constantly bullied and used by his roommates. He wants to leave but does not dare to say anything about it to his parents. He knows his father wouldn’t do anything and his mother would like to do something, but not against her husband’s will.
The things she finds out about Christophe makes Chantal doubt whether she really knew Christophe and whether he had been honest with her, her colleagues and even his wife.
The title A Real Woman refers to Manu, who is a transgender person who has been hugely bullied during his childhood, but has found his place in society as a woman as an adult.
Can you live with a secret.
Structure and perspective / way of telling
The story consists of 381 pages, which are divided into 2 parts. The story gives the point of view of Chantal Zwart written in third person and the point of view of the fifteen year old Manu in person. This latter view is made clear by a italic font.
Time and place
The story takes place in the past (at the school) and in the present in Limoges, Monteil, Tulle, Aixe sur Vienne and Paris.
A Real Woman is a good book, but not a thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat. The story is very cleverly put together, and has an unexpected ending. The cut-scenes that give Manu’s point of view are also very well drawn up and add value to the story. Michael Berg’s writing style ensures that the book is easy and pleasant to read. This series with Chantal Zwart is definitely recommended to read.