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on 13 July 2014
I enjoyed this slightly less than the two earlier parts of the trilogy (Death in ... / Dark Summer in ... ). Again, the murder (of an unpleasant piano teacher) is merely the maguffin that gets the ball rolling. The main business, of course, in the moral greyness that characterises life in occupied France. In order, though, to capture the obliqueness and necessarily allusive nature of nearly all conversation of any interest in Vichy France, Massie has been forced to require much of his reader - and, I must admit, I sometimes failed him.
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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.
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on 10 July 2014
The historical setting if these three novels is really interesting, but it is the ever on going struggle between the actions of a decent man pitted against the forces of corruption, idealism and fanaticism that really makes these novels works of art. Whilst they are not thrillers as such, they are also not just police novels either. These elements are in a way, incidental to the main thrust of human frailty and suffering combatting the supposed superiority of the apparently powerful. They illuminate the human qualities of limited justice, heroism and dogged belief that something somewhere is really worthwhile despite the huge amount of evil trying to hide it. A truly satisfying trilogy which will lead me to read more from the volumes of divergent literature this gifted Scottish writer has produced.
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on 1 May 2014
A good story with a rather complex but enlightening revelation of the difficulties facing French families during the German occupation.
Probably rather too much emphasis on the homosexual inclinations of many of the characters.
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on 21 November 2015
I had previously read a number of books by Allan Massie, including "A question of loyalties" also about Vichy France.
Superintendent Lannes is a sympathetic character, hiding behind a cynical, alcohol fueled detective persona. The conflicts and contradictions of his position are effectively drawn and the idea of a "pre-war" crime is intriguing. The writing is evocative, the characters vivid and the atmosphere is charged and threatening. Highly recommended.
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on 8 July 2014
Not the easiest of reads, especially if you haven't read what came before. Rather complex cast and that can take some getting into, as well as picking up the threads that connect them, but beautifully written - very calm and measured, with well rounded and many sympathetic characters (and one or two less so) who become more interesting as the book moves on and present their own dilemmas, hopes and fears, while trying to live through most unusual and often unpleasant circumstances.

One to read, and then perhaps return to in a while - but would suggest reading in sequence which may make it easier.
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on 7 June 2014
I enjoyed the wartime background and the conflicts of loyalty which ensued. The plot of this story was not as clear as the previous parts of the trilogy.the sexual nature of the killing did not add very much to the story although it may have added to the sales value. The next book in the series will provide a n interesting insight into Liberation France and th resolution of the family dilemmas.A thoughtfully written book elegently expressed. I like the Allan Massie style of understated tension among the varied group of personalities.
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on 4 October 2014
This is the third of Massie’s ‘Bordeaux’ novels (along with Death in Bordeaux and Dark Summer in Bordeaux) and although it could be read as a standalone it really requires to be read in sequence as there is a high level of interconnection. These are not really detective novels – they are novels about moral ambiguity, explored through the experience of Occupied and Vichy France in WW2, using the detective story genre as a device. It is a theme that Massie is clearly pre-occupied by and his masterpiece is A Question of Loyalties, which lies outside this series. The Bordeaux series does not quite reach that standard but it is nonetheless excellent.

In Cold Winter, as in the others, Massie presents the complexity of moral choices and moral character. People who have despicable views may sometimes be acting with honour; those with honourable views may act despicably. The protagonist, Jean Lannes, sits uneasily between both, constantly anxious and questioning of the compromises he must make and, perhaps as a result, respected by others and by the reader. His own family embody the dilemmas of the time, with one son joining de Gaulle’s Free French army, the other working for the Vichy regime – both animated by idealism. One of Massie’s skills is to depict political dynamics and family dynamics side by side, as mutually intertwined. Even today, this will have huge resonance in many French families.

This is another highly sophisticated book, which can be read at many levels. It is historically instructive in showing how the Occupation cannot be reduced to a simple binary of collaboration versus resistance. It is morally instructive in showing how socially deviant behaviour in one sphere can go hand in hand with courage in another. It is emotionally instructive in showing how individuals and families respond to these complexities.

But although mainly concerned with moral complexity and ambiguity, Massie is not a moral relativist. Throughout the series we are shown people – such as the advocate Labiche – who are entirely reprehensible: morally, politically, emotionally. They constantly escape justice and are, so far anyway, ‘untouchable’. The morality here is black and white, not grey, but the point is that it does not map on to any conventional categories of ideology, nationality, class or gender. And in case that sounds dull, along the way Massie provides a lively narrative and a compelling evocation of wartime France.

Overall, this is not a book for someone expecting a ‘whodunnit’ (not that there is anything wrong with whodunnits), but rather part of an ongoing and fascinating meditation on the nature of good and evil by an outstanding, if perhaps under-rated, novelist. I am eagerly awaiting the next instalment.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 4 October 2016
I had never read any of Allan Massie’s books before and had no expectations. However, the book soon gripped me, mainly due to style of writing. No unnecessary words are used: no gushing dialogue. The stage is set and the action begins with characters that are both believable yet not always endearing!
Predominately set in Bordeaux, the main character Superintendent Lannes is called to report on a murder of a woman. Ostensibly she is a piano teacher, teaching young girls and living a comfortable life – or so it appears on the surface. The mode of her death and the following investigation allows Lannes to follow what is termed a ‘pre-war crime.’

His investigations lead him to mix with a number of characters – and this is where Allan Massie’s craft comes to the fore. One can picture them. The prostitutes of both sexes; nasty and corrupt criminals; indeed a degree of corruption is a common theme.

Almost as important to the tale are those characters on the peripheral, the fretting wife; the young daughter in the throes of her first love; the absent son – his whereabouts unknown to Lannes but known to the reader.

Given Allan Massie’s background it is hardly surprising that the history of the book is fascinating and never dull. Set in the Second World War, there are references made to German occupation; Free French and the Vichy government of the time. The cultural elements are interesting too. Brandy or cognac at any time of the day, chain smoking and the importance of stopping for lunch.

I’m very tempted to read his other books.
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on 3 March 2014
Eagerly awaited third book in the trilogy. Characters,location details and story lines as good as ever but felt somewhat cheated at the end as there are so many loose ends which have not been resolved. There is a real need for a fourth book in the series to satisfy my and other readers' curiosity. How about it Mr Massie?
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