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Death in Bordeaux by Allan Massie
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Death in Bordeaux (2010)

by Allan Massie

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Death in Bordeaux is the first in a detective triology set in Bordeaux in early 1940 when France declared war due to the Nazi invasion of Poland. I rated this novel a 4/5, as opposed to a 5/5 star rating, because I was crushed at the end. The central mystery was not solved!! It has an enjoyable read that touches political divisions, French anti-semitism, homosexuality, and life during the invasion of the Nazis. ( )
  WanderRoxyBooks | May 5, 2016 |
Top notch historical literary police procedural, although the proof-reading leaves a lot to be desired. The first in a trilogy, this is set in 1940s Bordeaux, during the fall of France. Superintendent Lannes, a veteran of the Great War and with a son on the front lines of the coming war, investigates the grisly murder of a homosexual. He is urged to close the case quickly, but the victim was known to him and he hangs on, doggedly pursuing the slender lines of inquiry. When Germany invades and France surrenders, he finds himself questioning his priorities and fearing for the future. His chief suspects become powerful and untouchable,his witnesses are in danger and he is vulnerable. In the end, the mystery might be solved and the culprits revealed, but is there any hope of justice being done?

Underneath the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors and typesetting disasters, this book is superbly written and sympathetically imagined, a portrait of a society about to compromise itself utterly while those within struggle to find ways to live with themselves and their conquerors. One senses that the other jackboots will well and truly drop in the next volume, and horrible choices about resistance and survival will have to be made and that both will come with heavy costs. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
A really good, proper novel, this.

At an almost pedantically precise moment in time and space (France, 1940), Massie's detective is the sort of fully-realised character one would expect from this excellent novelist.

The plot, while engaging enough, is not the reason why I'll be looking out for the rest of this projected trilogy: I find the period fascinating, and I feel I've learnt more from this great work of historical fiction than from any number of lesser authorities from the non-fiction department. ( )
  jtck121166 | Jul 13, 2013 |
Rating: 3* of five

The Book Description: In the spring of 1940, the mutilated body of a homosexual is discovered in a street near the Bordeaux railway station. It looks like a straight-forward sex crime, but when Superintendent Lannes is warned off the investigation, his suspicion that there is a political motive for the murder seems justified. In defiance of authority, he continues working on the case. And then another body is found...Meanwhile, the Superintendent has other troubles. His eldest son, Dominique, is at the Front, his wife, Marguerite, is depressed, and when the Battle of France breaks out, Bordeaux is filled with refugees fleeing the war. Suddenly civilian crime seems of little importance compared to the chaos that ensues. As Bordeaux becomes an occupied city, Lannes' chief suspect is untouchable, protected by a relative in the Vichy government. Lannes himself is threatened with blackmail on account of his Jewish friends and Dominique is taken prisoner. Common sense should make Lannes abandon the investigation, but honour and a natural obstinacy lead him to pursue it. However, as events turn increasingly bleak, Lannes begins to doubt it can ever be solved...


My Review: What exactly is this book supposed to be? Is it a murder mystery? Is it a novel of Fallen France? I've read it now, and I don't really know. I suspect Massie doesn't either, and therein my issue with the book. I don't think it's right to market as a mystery a novel in which the mystery isn't mysterious. I don't think it's right to market a novel of the fall of France in the framework of a mystery unless you deliver on your promise.

So after close to 300pp in the company of Jean Lannes of the Police Justiciare, his friends Henri and Gaston, et alii, I am left with one certainty: Not one of these characters has done more than form wispily before my mind's eye. Marguerite, Jean's wife and mother of his three kids, is as wet as a tear-sodden hankie. She cries and glooms her way through the novel, almost driving Jean into adultery, and the funny thing is that I was wishing to goodness that he'd go on and do it. Poor bastard has awful, Babbitty superiors, collaborators one and all; men under him who need to be doing more than they're allowed to in the story; victims galore of one sociopathic, Nietzsche-spouting slimebucket. If anyone needs a good roll in the hay, it's this guy.

And then there's the writing. “He felt ashamed.” Uhhhmmm...that is the classic example of telling, not showing, and it's repeated ad nauseam with reference to Jean. Similar bald statements are made of other characters' inner lives. The descriptions of meals are simply lists of dishes; it's a little bit like reading pieces of the index to Mastering the Art of French Cooking. “It was good,” reports the writer.

Andrea Camilleri has no need to look over his shoulder for fear Montalbano's reign as sleuth/gourmand is challenged.

So why give the book, which was so evidently only modestly satisfactory, three stars? Because the situation, the Fall of France, is intriguing, and the author's choice to explore it through the lens of police work and public order, however mediocrely executed, is very interesting. I won't say you should seek it out and gobble it down, but should it present itself to you in some free way, and if you're interested in WWII France, it won't bore you to sleep.

A note on the book itself: I read the British publisher Quarto's edition. I know the English have a bizarrely proprietary attitude towards our American tongue, and even think of themselves as privileged to punctuate the language in odd and un-American ways with impunity. This is obviously complete bosh, so we needn't discuss it; but the copyeditor of this book needs a swift kick. The number of places there are no close quotes quite boggled my mind. The oddest thing, though, is the prevalence of this:
“Henry, “he said, “There...”

EEEEEEEEEE! Horrible! (Of course, for my example, I have used the self-evidently superior American system of double-quotes, unlike the silly Quarto people.) The capital letter beginning the rest of the sentence alone would cause me pain, but the misplaced quotation marks! Oooh owwww ( )
1 vote richardderus | Nov 5, 2012 |
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March, 1940. His wife, Marguerite, said the Chambolley case was becoming an obsession with Lannes.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0704371901, Paperback)

In the spring of 1940, the mutilated body of a homosexual is discovered in a street near the Bordeaux railway station. It looks like a straight-forward sex crime, but when Superintendent Lannes is warned off the investigation, his suspicion that there is a political motive for the murder seems justified. In defiance of authority, he continues working on the case. And then another body is found...Meanwhile, the Superintendent has other troubles. His eldest son, Dominique, is at the Front, his wife, Marguerite, is depressed, and when the Battle of France breaks out, Bordeaux is filled with refugees fleeing the war. Suddenly civilian crime seems of little importance compared to the chaos that ensues. As Bordeaux becomes an occupied city, Lannes' chief suspect is untouchable, protected by a relative in the Vichy government. Lannes himself is threatened with blackmail on account of his Jewish friends and Dominique is taken prisoner. Common sense should make Lannes abandon the investigation, but honour and a natural obstinacy lead him to pursue it. However, as events turn increasingly bleak, Lannes begins to doubt it can ever be solved...

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:33 -0400)

'Death in Bordeaux' is the first novel in a trilogy which will take Superintendent Lannes through World War Two and up to the grisly, but inevitable, purge of those found guilty of German collaboration.

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