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on 21 September 2014
I would agree with a previous reviewer who wrote that the copy editor of this book should be taken out and shot — a slightly unfortunate image given the book's setting and time period — except that I doubt there ever was such a person. Almost every page has homonyms, wrong quotation marks, missing quotation marks, missing punctuation, odd paragraph breaks or no break where there should be one, and so on.
Worse, it seems in places as if there were no editorial input whatever. One small instance is a bottle put away in a cupboard that mysteriously appears in a character's hands a sentence later. There is little excuse for not picking this kind of thing up. More importantly there is a sudden and, it feels, unnecessary change of point of view, late on in the story which, which seems remarkably amateurish for such an experienced and competent writer as does the frequent repetition of certain words, notably "disgust/disgusting" throughout, and the apparent determination to 'convince' the reader by naming what must be every third street and brasserie in Bordeaux. Each grammatical or stylistic error has the effect of jerking the reader out of the story which is a pity since Massie captures the feel of Bordeaux at the start of WW2 persuasively and the story itself is initially involving.
Overall the book reads more like a second draft — in one place there's even what seems like a 'note to self' in the text — than a book polished by either author or editor. The first few pages seemed both formulaic and tentative, as if the writer were playing himself in, just getting the feel of the writing. The story overall seems uncertain with, to me, an unsatisfactory ending, or, rather, an ending which would have been satisfactory had there been more to it. It feels as though Massie had almost given up on the story and settled for an ending which fits the theme and is realistic in the context rather than one that also feels fully rounded off with full emotional weight given. In fact the whole book has a tentative feel, as if the writer was exploring the story as he went along, unsure of its detailed direction, with seeming loose ends — for example, why identical twins for no obvious reason? — and extra characters introduced late on and for little apparent reason other than to give a lift to a sagging story, something they don't, in any case, quite do as they are not directly connected to the story.
So, is it a bad book? Not at all. But it is a weak one. An unnecessarily weak one that, with proper editing could have been a strong one. Perhaps Massie and the publishers were up against a too-tight deadline? I can think of no other reason why a book from an experienced and skilled writer like Massie should have been sent to print in such poor condition. Unless, surely not, the wrong file was sent and this really was just an early draft?
Overall, this was a disappointing read and I'm now not sure whether I want to invest further time and money in the rest of the trilogy. Yet the central character is attractive and worth getting to know better, minor characters have enough weight to carry them on into further stories, and both the location and time period are skilfully evoked, particularly the sense of continuing ordinary life and ordinary people's powerlessness in the midst of otherwise dramatic circumstances.
I'm undecided. But I think I'll probably try the next one, at least, and hope that it has received the proper editing that this book deserved but patently did not get.
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on 12 November 2010
Bought it really as a who dun it but its much more than that.It explores what happened as the Vichy republic was formed during the second world war.It explores the dilemas that many were faced with in a very believable fashion.There were some, very believable monsters but most were just ordinary people trying to do their best.No heros and not many real villians,which is what it probably was like.Looking forward to more in this series.
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on 20 October 2010
The copy editor of this book should be taken out and shot. There were so many errors, most of which would have been caught with a standard spell and grammar check program. I enjoyed the book, but finding mistakes on nearly every page really stopped me from getting into the story.
I hope the publisher tries a lot harder on the next two volumes of the trilogy.
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on 23 July 2010
Massie is an expert on vichy France in the Second world War, as his earlier, prize-winning A Question of Loyalties amply demonstrated. Now he revisits the stricken country, where people are torn between conflicting loyalties, and tells a compelling detective story in this tense background. Superb!
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The first book in Allan Massie's Bordeaux/Inspector Superintendent Lannes series and good one it is. Protagonist Lannes reminded me of the protagonist in Donna Leon's Venice crime stories--Commassarrio Brunetti (another time and another place, of course).. He's a decent man and great cop who finds himself increasingly beset by outside forces that prevent him from carrying out the basic function of his job--investigating and solving major crimes. It is difficult enough in early 1940 with France engaged in a sitzkrieg war with Nazi Germany while French political factions on the right, left and middle jockey for power; the war heats up, the Germans invade, France surrenders, the Vichy collaborationist government is formed and Bordeaux is occupied by the Nazis. In the midst of this sequence of events, Lannes' attempts to solve the murder of an old acquaintance are increasingly stymied by political higher ups for reasons that seem to go back in time to the Spanish Civil War. The Superintendent is not the kind of policeman to let a crime go unsolved and takes great personal risk to unravel the original murder which eventually expands into a multi-death case.

What's especially good about this book, beyond its highly credible historic context, are the interesting characters that author Allan Massie has created--each with an original and interesting voice and perspective. The characters' interactions are natural and appropriate--few false notes here. The villains of the piece are diabolical enough, but they are more than one dimension, and more than one of them makes a cogent argument for collaboration with the Nazis that seems perfectly matched to the desperate time and situation that France found itself in after losing the war.

I actually read the second book in the series, "A Dark Bordeaux Summer" before "A Death..." and now wish I'd read them in order. I think I'm going to the read the sequel again as it is very closely linked in time and characters to the first. These are really fine historical whodunits by a skilled writer.
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on 16 August 2012
It really bothers me that neither the author nor the publisher thought it worth their while to do a serious, professional editing job on this book. In theory it is an interesting work, but one's reading experience is spoiled by zillions of typos, spelling mistakes, missing or wrong punctuation, etc. Unacceptable.
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on 6 December 2015
Making a senior policeman the main character in a novel which affords a useful insight into the choices to be made when you no longer control your own destiny is at first surprising. However, as one becomes immersed in the plot the device becomes perfectly natural and absorbing. Massive is not a great stylist but his unpretentious prose ideally reflects the grim reality of the occupation. I look forward to reading the other books in the series.
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on 21 January 2016
This is a fascinating account of what it was like to be a senior policeman in Bordeaux at the time of the German conquest of France.
The job, the "de this" and "de that" who thought they were nobility, the Spaniards, the Jews - it's all there.

But it has no ending.
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on 11 September 2014
Loved this book. It recreates what life was like for the locals under the German occupation of Bordeaux with clarity and style. In the atmospheric stakes it's up there with the early Alan Fursts. More than a mystery story, it deals with morality and morals. But oh for a competent copy editor! The book is littered with errors, misspellings, wrong words, new paragraphs where there should be none, and missing letters. It becomes very tiresome. Quartz Books should be ashamed to put this on the market in this state. I really hope the other two have had a little more care and attention paid to the printed word.
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on 4 May 2016
I agree with other reviewers that this book was a considerable disappointment. The story has colour mostly through the setting and the timing but also at the beginning the initial events promise much. Sadly the story just wanders from one lucky break to the next without any clean detection nor and really feeling for the reader that in the end this is going to result in an interesting conclusion. Indeed the conclusion is entirely weak and, as others have said, appears as if the writer has just run out of steam.

I also agree with the bad editing comments have given. A bit annoying to say the least and not what one would expect from a professional publisher.
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