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Wartime Sexual and Political Intrigue
on 2 March 2014
In October, 1942, in Bordeaux, Superintendent Jean Lannes is summoned to a murder. The respected Gabrielle Peniel appears to be the victim of a crime of passion. Lannes is not convinced. His investigations open the floodgates to a scenario of intrigue. Set against a background of a German presence and threat of occupation, where anti-Semitism is rife, the author constructs a realistic portrayal of the period where misery, desolation, and distrust are everywhere. Lannes has his personal problems. His sons are both pro-France but are involved from opposing forces. His daughter is in love with an idealistic influenced anti-Bolshevik. Lannes side-lines these problems by continuing with his civilian police role yet his cool exterior disguises his inner anxieties. This is an impractical approach, as Lannes is embroiled in the investigation of a murder involving a web of sexual, political, secretive and subversive activities.
The murder is merely a fulcrum that Allan Massie uses to develop his complex plot. It highlights the scenario of the 1942-3 wartime French situation with its insecurity and the powers that control the perspective in the short term for self-gratification. This approach comes across against the visionary beliefs of the fanatics. The novel conveys the atmosphere and dangers of occupied France. Bordeaux may be in the throes of more adverse times, clearly threatened, but the author mixes day-to-day life amongst the local community with the subversive influences enforced from the controlling hierarchy.
A well-crafted novel of war-times with a central theme of a complex crime that draws the threads of the narrative into an absorbing experience. Lannes is portrayed in a diplomatic, hound-dog Maigret-style, restricted by personal and superior forces. He is readily warmed to. The author conveys the policeman's self-imposed discipline in an excellent and enlightening read. More to come is promised and welcomed.