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Crossing the Line by Frédérique Molay

August 22, 2014 2 comments

Crossing the Line by Frederique Molay

Crossing the Line by Frédérique Molay (Le French Book, 2014) originally titled Dent pour dent (the biblical phrase, “a tooth for a tooth” which I can’t help but feel is the better title) translated by Anne Trager. It’s coming up to Christmas in Paris and Nico Sirsky, Head of the Paris Criminal Investigation Division has now perfected the relationship with Caroline (love really is more than skin deep) which has the approval of his son Dimitri (his ex-wife has gone AWOL, possibly seeking treatment for depression). He’s strengthening the leg where he was shot and is now back at work full-time, where he’s supposed to be focusing on solving one of the biggest jewellery heists France has ever seen. Meanwhile Dr Patrice Rieux is about to begin demonstrating the removal of a wisdom tooth to a class of students. They use “heads” donated to science. This particular head, only twelve days old, has a note inserted into a molar. It reads, “I was murdered”. Everyone wants this investigated in a way that exonerates the Paris Descartes University from blame, i.e. this is a real murder and not a prank by one of its students. The immediate problem, of course, is that when bodies are donated, they do not stay in one piece. The head goes to the schools of neurology, opthalmology, and dentistry for students to work on. The soft tissues and bones go to other units. Carefully preserved in cold rooms, the parts are available for use for several months depending on the storage temperature. The body, when whole and alive, belonged to Bruno Guedj. Fortunately, there’s a bullet wound in the head so it could be murder or suicide. But why, then, was there no autopsy? Why was a body with a bullet wound to the head deemed an unsuspicious death?

Frédérique Molay

Frédérique Molay

In every respect, this is a most pleasing mystery. Why should a man preparing to commit suicide, have his dentist implant a message in one of his teeth saying he was about to be murdered? The answer would normally be to persuade the life insurance company that his suicide was a murder. But, in France, the standard anti-suicide provision only applies during the first twelve months of the policy. Thereafter, the insurer pays out on death, no matter what the cause. Then there’s the uncertainty of the means of transmitting the message. What was the point of leaving his body to science on the off-chance the message would be found when it would be so much easier just to leave an explanatory note with his lawyer or someone else reliable? I could go on, but this series of questions should indicate the quality of the puzzle to be solved. More importantly, it also flags up the problem of how precisely to investigate the “situation”. When looking through a period of time, how do you tell what’s significant and might have triggered this man’s belief his life was in danger? The answer to this immediate problem comes slowly but surely. Except, when it arrives, it’s obvious that this is just the top of quite a substantial iceberg.

This type of murder mystery is always a delight as our seasoned detective leads his team through all the procedures necessary to investigate and collect the information, some of which may prove to be relevant evidence. This being a French mystery, we’re immediately cast into their fairly Byzantine legal system which is riven by jurisdictional rivalries and political constraints. Fortunately, the team that eventually comes together has the mutual trust and the confidence to follow the trail to wherever it leads (no matter how inconvenient that might be). The ending comes just in time for it to be a Christmas present for Nico Sirsky and his family, producing the right seasonal feelings without it being overly sentimental. Putting everything together gives you a highly entertaining and intellectually stimulating read. Crossing the Line is unreservedly recommended.

For the review of the first in the series by Frédérique Molay, see The 7th Woman.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Murder in Pigalle by Cara Black

July 21, 2014 4 comments

Murder in Pigalle

Murder in Pigalle by Cara Black (Soho Press, 2014) is the fourteenth book to feature Aimée Leduc as our private detective who specialises in corporate security and computer investigations, finds herself pregnant at the most inconvenient time — taxes are due, people who owe the agency money are slow to pay, and the daughter of one of her friends decides to go missing. We’re steadily moving through history and have now arrived in June 1998 with the world (and France) caught up in the excitement of the World Cup. In one sense, this is the perfect moment to commit crimes because the attention of the majority is caught up in the “excitement” of hosting the competition. Yes France won the right to host for the second time and was all out to put on a good show both on and off the field (for those of you who don’t follow the game, France beat Brazil in the July final). As an aside, the baby’s father is Mélac, a police officer who’s at the bedside of his critically injured daughter in Brittany. Aimée hasn’t yet told him of his impending fatherhood which should tell you something of the nature of their relationship.

 

So there have been three rapes on young girls in and around Pigalle but, at the start of this book, the police have not connected the dots. Unfortunately, Zazie a thirteen-year-old girl who hero-worships Aimée has been inspired to investigate. One of her friends has already been raped and together, they have put together an identikit picture of the man. Zazie has also been talking to an old lady who was in the Resistance during the war, so she’s picked up quite a lot of the lore of secret message drops, surveillance, and so on. She’s even been into Pigalle at night and has photographs which, she thinks, show the man responsible. Sadly, Aimée is distracted when this subject is broached and does not listen with all her attention. So when Zazie fails to come home that evening, she’s caught by guilt and sets off to find her young protégée. That same night, Sylvaine Olivet, another of Zazie’s friends in found dead. It looks as though the rapist has turned into a murderer. It’s possible Zazie was a witness but the Brigade des Minuers is not interested in making Zazie’s disappearance a high priority.

Cara Black

Cara Black

 

As is therefore required in books like this, she and René Friant, her business partner, are pitched into a race against time to find the missing girl. The problem for Aimée is to reach the point where she might look beyond the serial rapist to what else might be going on in Paris (other than the football, of course). It’s easy for the readers because Cara Black sends quite an early signal the answer is going to require some lateral thinking. Nevertheless, Aimée bulls ahead and, as if to prove she’s on the right track, someone takes a shot at her, killing the woman she’s with. Yet, as all seasoned readers know, nothing is ever as straightforward as it first appears.

 

Putting all this together, we have an interesting serial rape case to work through. It’s actually based on a real-world crime and therefore has a certain plausibility about it. The setting in Paris is done well. That said, it’s always difficult to know where to draw the line on how much of the French language to include for local colour. Strictly speaking, all dialogue should be in English. Translating all but everyday words like “bonjour” is slightly insulting. This does have characters breaking out into phrases every now and then which is, I suppose, not unacceptable. Setting this in 1998 was an interesting choice, not only because of the football, but also because Pigalle was beginning a gentrification from a more seamy, sex-oriented area to a more respectable middle class area. So both Aimée and the location are in transition. The discussion of the pregnancy and how she will adapt her lifestyle to incorporate a baby are done well (we even have her absent mother helping from hiding and an interesting comment on the circumstances of her father’s death). The thriller elements also work well and put both mother and baby at risk (which is how it should be if the author is aiming for some degree of realism). This leaves Murder in Pigalle as one of the better books set in France with a good puzzle for our hero to resolve and a not unsympathetic view of the French law enforcement agencies and the complex way in which they are required to work.

 

For a review of another book by Cara Black, see Murder at the Lanterne Rouge.

 

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

 

The Prisoner of the Riviera by Janice Law

December 3, 2013 Leave a comment

The Prisoner of the Riviera by Janice Law

The Prisoner of the Riviera by Janice Law (Mysterious Press/Open Road Media, 2013) sees the historically real British artist Francis Bacon in his second mystery outing. As transitory sidekicks, he has his old nanny and Albert, his lover, caught up in intrigue just after the Second World War. For those of you not familiar with the man and his work, it’s appropriate to quote Wikipedia, “Bacon in person was a bon vivant, and notably and unapologetically gay.” This book is therefore implicitly gay in its outlook, taking as read the active oppression of the times with homosexuality still a crime in England and France.

It all begins as our happy couple are leaving a gambling establishment in London when a man is shot in front of them. Bacon does all he can to stabilise the man’s condition but, a few days later, the owner of the casino comes to their door. He reports the man dead of pneumonia. It seems there’s a widow who lives near Monte Carlo. Our hero had already arranged a trip to France. Would Bacon please deliver the deceased’s last words — upon confirmation of their receipt, his not insubstantial London gambling debts will be written off. It seems a suspiciously generous offer, but Bacon agrees, thinking he has nothing to lose. Sadly, this judgement proves wide of the mark. When he arrives at the indicated house on the Riviera to deliver the package, he suspects something is wrong and leaves as quickly as possible. Later the police arrive at his hotel. A body has been found at the house and he’s the only one seen entering or leaving.

Janice Law

Janice Law

This is very definitely an historical mystery with thriller elements, the plot dynamic depending on the politics immediately following the liberation of France. During the German occupation, the situation on the ground was complicated by the creation of the Vichy government. To show loyalty to the Germans, Marshal Philippe Pétain created the Milice, an extralegal paramilitary force to fight the Maquis in the Zone Libre except, in self-defence as they were targeted by the Resistance, this militia expanded its activities into the Zone Occupée. They were more feared than the SS because they knew the lay of the land and, by definition, spoke the language. Obviously, once the war was over, there were injuries and deaths as the members of the Resistance and local citizens took their revenge. Many of the Milice went into hiding or left the country but, with memories still fresh, their influence remains real. As is always the case, there’s also money at stake. As the de facto government in the south of France, people were in a position to acquire wealth. With the war over, there’s a race to either recover the money or deny the money to the other side. The combination of the desire for revenge and greed are powerful motivators.

So here comes the catalyst Bacon, a completely unashamed homosexual who makes no secret of his orientation. The situation could not call for someone more likely to stand out no matter what the size of the crowd. Walking into the village, asking which house is occupied by the widow, broadcasts his identity. The villagers cannot fail to report this foreigner to the police. No matter whether the police are corrupt, they cannot fail to suspect him of every possible kind of criminal behaviour. Now there are two priorities for him. First he must survive. Then he must engineer his return to England with the least possible damage. Fortunately for the reader, the second priority inevitably requires him to begin working out who’s on which side. Not, you understand, so that he can join any of the sides. But simply to know whether they are friend or foe or swing both ways. When a retired member of the Sûreté comes on to the scene, things heat up. In the old days, he was driven by the need to obtain evidence. Now he’s no longer a policeman, he can be more flexible. But with great flexibility comes great danger. Thank the Gods somethings like the Tour de France are eternal.

Insofar as it’s relevant, the sexuality of the protagonist is handled sensitively, drawing on the then prevailing demimonde for lifestyle and some of the characters. Although it’s slightly formulaic, The Prisoner of the Riviera manages a successful combination of mystery and thriller elements to produce an enjoyable read.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

The First Blood by Sire Cédric

November 10, 2013 Leave a comment

S-Cedric-First BloodLe Premier Sang

Journeys are rather odd enterprises. For generations before the invention of modern forms of transport, most people stayed in the same area all their lives. So long as there was food and the means to sustain life, there was no need to move unless some annoying man with delusions of leadership came along recruiting an army or asking for volunteers to populate a newly founded city with vague promises of a better life. Even today, with all the benefits of modern transport, few people actually move around significantly. They establish homes and familiarise themselves with the neighbourhood. Apart from the occasional holiday, they stay put. So when it comes to the writing of two books, there’s a choice to be made. In reality, most authors prefer to stay on ground they know well. This can be purely thematic. There are many ways in which to replay tropes of love and hate, redemption and revenge. Or it can be the continuation of the story involving the same key characters. In The First Blood by Sire Cédric (Publishers Square, 2013) translated by Anne Trager (the power behind Le French Book) from Le Premier Sang and distributed in English by Open Road, we’re following the latter path. Of Fever and Blood was the first supernatural thriller featuring Inspectors Eva Svärta and Alexandre Vauvert. This continues their story although, in real terms, it’s more Eva Svärta’s story. Think of this pair of novels as her personal journey.

In some ways, this is a slightly leaner and more elegant plot than the first. Of Fever and Blood more obviously sets out in the style of Clive Barker to produce a number of set-pieces in which the blood flows and a sense of horror emerges as if by main force. This sequel plays the game of consequences. In confronting and defeating the evil, there were unintended side effects. Such is always the way for evil comes in many forms and lurks in shadows only dimly glimpsed. Our couple have now returned to their jobs. Separated by physical distance and her fear of relationships, Eva obsessionally continues her investigation of the events leading up to the death of her sister. The spark struck with Alexandre Vauvert flickers uncertainly, leaving her colleagues in Paris shaking their heads sadly. A chance for her to grow more human is being lost.

Then comes a call to arms. A drug dealer in one of the Parisienne sink estates has begun to act oddly. Eva and a colleague go to spy out the land only to find his top storey flat bursting into flames with him inside it. In Toulouse, Alexandre Vauvert is trying to track down a missing man and runs into supernatural opposition to his quest. Initially, when he calls Eva’s phone and leaves voicemail pleas for help, she ignores him. But slowly a link emerges between the two cases and their partnership must resume.

Sire Cédric

Sire Cédric

So here comes the theme. Any individual with even the slightest ambition when young, dreams of bettering him or herself. For most, these hopes and fantasies can never be realised. People lack the dedication to work on their weaknesses and build on their strengths. But here we meet a group of five who feel they can really push the boundaries. Initially, they drive themselves through barriers by peer pressure. Then comes the crunch and only one stands out in front, striving to pull the others on. One lags behind, increasingly sceptical that the benefits will outweigh the costs. Although it’s a trite way of framing the issue, the Spiderman version runs, “With great power comes great responsibility.” So to whom is the responsibility owed? If five with great power swear an oath, does that bind them or can a promise be displaced if a higher duty emerges? Perhaps, in the Kantian style of thought, Google’s imperative corporate slogan is right, “Don’t be evil!”

We start off as this question suddenly becomes the group’s sole preoccupation. Some had sought redemption for past sins, but now the threat of revenge proves irresistible as the first of the group falls and there’s collateral damage to the family of one other. As with any police force, the French believe in the duty to protect and serve. With lives in danger, the police cannot stand idly by. The problem, however, is the failure of the most senior officers to acknowledge the reality of the supernatural. Since their denial is invincible, this leaves our two lower ranking heroes with the task of confronting the dangers and saving as many as possible. The result is a supernatural thriller of terrific pace. From the first page, there’s no chance to pause for breath as the situation growing increasingly menacing. First individually, our heroes must fight for their lives. When they meet up again, they are finally honest with each other. Perhaps this means Eva can allow Alexandre to stand by her side and not feel guilty. The result is a genuinely great climax with everything left poised for Sire Cédric to continue the journey in La mort en tête. It may not be a fair thing to say, but I think The First Blood better than Of Fever and Blood. This is probably only because of the way an already great story is developing. This opinion should reinforce the usual warning that you should not read this book first. Eva Svärta has begun to move from a self-imposed isolation to a position of greater emotional vulnerability. So unless you understand precisely what happened in the first volume, you will not appreciate the significance of many events in this and the overall experience will be less satisfying.

You should not be surprised that The First Blood or Le Premier Sang has been nominated for the Prix de l’Embouchure (for credibility as a police procedural) and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire (France’s top prize for fantasy literature). It’s also a Book d’Or (a Gold Book). It deserves equal recognition now it’s been so well translated into English.

For a review of the first in the series, see Of Fever and Blood.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Of Fever and Blood by Sire Cédric

October 15, 2013 Leave a comment

Of Fever and Blood

Of Fever and Blood by Sire Cédric (Publishers Square, 2013) is distributed in English by Open Road. Sire Cédric has published eight titles (with another due shortly) including L’enfant des cimetières (2009) which won the Masterston prize, this book, De fièvre et de sang (2010), which won the Polar prize at the Cognac festival and the first Cinécinéma Frissons prize, and Le jeu de l’ombre (2011). From this brief history, you’ll understand this author writes about monsters, madness and, without irony intended, rock music. In his novels and short stories, he’s influenced by Clive Barker and Stephen King, having moved from a career in journalism and translation, to writing police procedurals, often with a supernatural element. Le premier sang (2012), the second in this series, has been nominated for the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire and the Prix de l’Embouchure 2013.

Of Fever and Blood is the first of two supernatural thrillers featuring Inspectors Eva Svärta and Alexandre Vauvert. Eva Svärta is a profiler based in Paris. She specialises in cults and anything with an occult connection. We’re immediately pitched into the climax of their hunt for a kidnapped girl. Eva Svärta is assisting in a serial killer case being handled by the Homicide Unit in Toulouse where Alexandre Vauvert works. Structurally, this means the action kicks off in high gear with the pair breaking into a remote farmhouse — none of the niceties of search warrants and backup from SWAT for this pair. They are in (relatively) hot pursuit of the latest kidnapped young woman and are not inclined to let bureaucracy stand in their way. That’s why the two men found at the farm end up dead (well, probably) and the young woman is rescued. Such a good outcome allows the press to senationalise the whole episode as one involving vampires (it’s all about the blood, you see) who’ve been stopped (young women in the area can feel safer) and this positive reaction gives the senior echelons in the policing agencies the excuse to look the other way on the number of different laws broken and the deaths of the two “suspects”.

Sire Cédric

Sire Cédric

Not surprisingly, things don’t go back to normal. Just over a year later, there are two new deaths in Paris which have the same hallmarks from Toulouse. Vauvert is also tempted to return to the farmhouse where supernatural and natural events collide in a rather interesting way (technology is highly relevant here). This prompts our two characters to communicate with each other. They always were unhappy at the summary way their first case was wrapped up. Questions were left unanswered. Now’s their chance to continue the investigation. Except, of course, the two men they killed. . . Perhaps they were Renfields, working for one or more people struggling with the delusion of vampirism. Or just maybe, there’s a real supernatural issue to investigate and resolve here.

Half the interest and fun of this book is the way in which stolid police procedural meets something not covered in the standard training manuals. At one level, we’ve got the usual tropes at work. There’s the structural sexism blighting the career of Svärta. More importantly, there are some seniors officers who’ve seen some inexplicable things in their long careers and are not going to be overly critical if the new generation of officers get caught up in something similar and have to fight their way out, leaving a few bodies behind. And so on. Why should France’s finest have such latitude? Because what they find at the farm and subsequent murder scenes shows a highly organised approach to torturing the twenty-four women kidnapped (or more — keeping count may be important) and draining them of their blood. This signals the most critical failure in the initial investigation. Our heroes never did discover exactly what happened to all the blood.

All this should tell you Of Fever and Blood is a fascinatingly direct voyage into a slightly gothic version of grand guignol. The style is simple and, allowing for the usual melodramatic French sense of atmosphere, unflinching when it comes to describing the way in which the women are killed. We’re then off into slightly more conventional territory with the mythology of vampires and their companion wolves. All of which manages to capture attention early and then ride the curiosity factor through to the end. It’s a real page turner as matters grow increasingly dark for our police heroes. This is not to say the story is stunningly original. In this particular niche which, for these purposes, I’ll describe as supernatural horror and fantasy, there are only a certain number of ways in which an author can manipulate the plot elements. But the results here are carried off with remarkable élan. Given the amount of blood spilled, we’re in early Clive Barker territory. This is not to say the book or its style feels dated. Rather that it’s quite refreshing to find someone getting back to the basic craft of graphic supernatural horror. Put simply Of Fever and Blood is a riveting example of an intelligent plot and ruthlessly efficient pacing in a gore-soaked police procedural. I recommend it.

For a review of the sequel, see The First Blood.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

The Greenland Breach by Bernard Besson

August 27, 2013 2 comments

Greenland Breach by Bernard Besson

This book is rather like one of these slightly more upmarket chocolates. It has a thick outer layer and something completely different as a filling. As to the wrapping, it’s always interesting to watch the wheel turn. When I was younger, I cut my teeth on books like The Drowned World by J G Ballard with an increase in solar radiation melting the polar ice caps and flooding the low-lying ground. In those heady days of excited speculation, global catastrophe or apocalypse science fiction was in vogue with everything from alien invasions to our own nuclear wars sending us back to the Stone Age with a flick of the author’s pen. If we move across the Channel and into more modern times, we have books like Le Monde Enfin by Jean-Pierre Andrevon with a pandemic striking humanity down, and the spectacularly long series titled La Compagnie des Glaces by Georges-Jean Arnaud with climate change caused by the destruction of the moon to the fore — first we freeze in ninety-eight volumes then, in a mere twenty-four volumes, we melt — if you missed the books, there’s a chance to catch up with the video games, graphic novels, French-Canadienne television adaptation and a different but parallel Japanese anime series, Overmanキングゲイナー, which also explores the problems caused by monopoly control of the transport system.

Why, you ask, should people in different cultures be so interested in actual or potential extinction events? The answer, I suppose, is because they operate high up on the scale of awesomeness (in the American sense of shock and awe). We pass rapidly beyond one or two people finding it a problem to survive, say, an increase in wind velocity, and wipe out countries no matter what their political allegiance. Or, along strictly nationalist lines, we can give payback for past slights. I’m reminded of US criticism of France under the government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin for failing to prevent more people from dying in a heat wave. It’s therefore understandable the US should be the first country to feel the wrath of nature in The Greenland Breach by Bernard Besson (Le French Book, 2013) originally titled Groenland and translated by Julie Rose. Serves those climate sceptics right, says I.

Bernard Besson

Bernard Besson

In the best Gallic tradition, this section of the book is magnificently melodramatic. Even in translation, you can feel the enthusiasm of the author shining through as he channels the emotion of the moments as global warming causes a major slippage of ice and land into the sea. Yes, Greenland is less than it was before it cracked in half. Dumping that amount of solid and meltable material into the sea at high velocity causes a tsunami to die for (sorry, the preposition should be from) and before you can say Jacques Robinson, water levels are rising fast. These damn oceans are just so interconnected in this internet age. If you fill up one, the water must find its own level. Because this is a Francocentric book, we’re really only interested in what the French oil and minerals industry was doing before the crack appeared, and what the various official spy agencies and unofficial operatives do afterwards. À bas les autres pays. Quel domage! — which, loosely translated means other low-lying countries get flooded first, ha ha!

So as an extrapolation, we have the polar region melting and throwing out an increasing volume of methane which could cause a major shift in climate, i.e. the warmer bits of the Earth go cool and the polar regions heat up. As this area melts, it could uncover large deposits of rare earths. That would have major strategic importance, breaking the market dominance of the Chinese. As this novel unwinds, Canada is claiming these deposits using the Continental Shelf Doctrine. And that’s where the espionage filling comes in. Once we have the context, we’re swept up into a mystery style investigation built around the unfolding catastrophe. The action moves through the death of a key executives of one of the companies exploring for natural resources on the icepack, to excitement in France, on to a ship that barely survived the tsunami, and back on to the ice as lakes start to form and methane bubbles up to the surface. Tension builds as life and death struggles occur and the identity of those behind the looming conspiracy is slowly revealed.

The Greenland Breach is a novel of considerable flair and panache which starts with a major environmental event and then skillfully switches focus to the ravages of human greed as plots are laid and manipulations executed (in every sense of the word). With this combination of flavours, the novel hits the sweet spot of enjoyment.

The Greenland Breach was published in paperback on April 30, 2014.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Death on the Pont Noir by Adrian Magson

August 19, 2013 2 comments

Death on the Pont Noir by Adrian Magson

Half the fun of reading modern historical fiction in political thriller mode is to be able to compare the times and places described by the author with what I experienced. Just after the time this is set, I was staying in Vannes, Brittany, expanding on my search for variations on la belle langue. Later that year, I was over in Arras and Soissons, not so far from the fictional Poissons-Les-Marias in Picardie where the food and wine are delights and, it seems, crime was rampant. I was also a reasonably regular visitor to London but, for reasons which escape me, never had occasion to rub shoulders with the Kray Twins or the Richardson Gang (fortuitous since they tended to use cheese graters to rub shoulders and other parts of the anatomy). The Richardsons never had quite the celebrity status of the Kray Twins, but it’s impossible to have lived through that era of criminal gangs and not be aware of their activities. Those people were part of the folklore of the day. That said, we have a slight dissonance here.

Death on the Pont Noir by Adrian Magson (Allison & Busby, 2013) is the third book featuring Inspector Lucas Rocco. This is set in 1963 after the assassination attempt on De Gaulle. Our hero has been transferred from Paris to work with his former army commanding officer, now Police Commissaire, François Massin. Rocco is a city person out of water in rural surroundings, but making it all work reasonably well. As to the dissonance. . . To say the people I met in Brittany were oblivious to national events would be a mischaracterisation. Rather as Wales has endured centuries of oppression from the English, so Brittany preferred not to see itself as interested in the problems of France as a colonial power. If anything, they identified with the Algerians as fellow sufferers under French occupation. There was more interest and political awareness in Arras as you would expect of a city. More people seemed vigilant with public buildings given a visible police presence to foster the belief security was a priority.

Adrian Magson

Adrian Magson

I vividly remember all the problems arising out of the relationship between France and Algeria, and had been in France when the plastique bombs were going off. In some parts of France, it was a time of ferment which, for most of the time, we Brits watched from the relative safety of our side of the Channel. Until the IRA mainland campaign got under way, that is. Then it was the Schadenfreude coming home to roost, as it were. And talking of things coming home, the OAS bombing and terrorist campaign killed hundreds, if not thousands. Families all over France were affected with relatives or friends killed. The word “pastique” entered the national discourse. People would joke with relief that they had not been pasticated that day — the first bomb going off in Paris on the 6th January, 1961. As a result of laws to regulate the property insurance industry, the risk of being blown up in France was formally recognized. The use of bombs to settle disputes was normalised.

Yet this book seems to be portraying this small part of France as living in a bubble. It’s a mise en scène and then on with the plot. It’s an historical time — OK so here’s a little background explaining who De Gaulle was and why he was controversial — and then on with the plot. I’m not saying there should have been a lot of detail but, for what’s billed as an historical thriller or police procedural, there sure ain’t a lot of history on display. Even the visit to London is perfunctory to move the plot forward. Apart from him buying some less appropriate clothing from Saville Row, there’s no sign London was beginning to swing.

Death on the Pont Noir is a purely functional piece of prose with everything subordinated to progressing the plot. Of course there’s nothing wrong with this so long as it’s a good plot. Fortunately for the author, this is a very nice piece of narrative engineering. Shorn of all extraneous detail, we move rapidly through the set-up, consider the implications, and then positively put the pedal to the metal in a race to see who can get to the end of the book in one piece. In many ways, this is an impressive piece of writing with very little redundancy. Too often today, you get a four-hundred page book and feel it’s been padded out to make the desired page count. Which is all somewhat ironic. I don’t usually criticise a book for not having enough colour and atmosphere in it. I’m not usually in the bean-counter’s corner when it comes to length. But, for once, I think a little more would have taken this good thrillerish police procedural and made it great.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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