It’s 1963 and Inspector Lucas Rocco has been posted to the village of Poissons-les-Marais in north-west France as part of a bureaucratic exercise to rotate officers around the country. He’s not best pleased to be leaving cosmopolitan Paris, but is immediately plunged into a village life and a murder case. A young woman is found dead in a Great War cemetery having been drowned and moved. A former sergeant who served in Indo-China, Rocco is famed for his insubordination, determination and bravery. His new boss is his former commanding officer, a coward who lost countless men’s lives through poor leadership. Before Rocco can even make a start investigating the case, the young woman’s body has disappeared, high level officials creating a smokescreen. The dogged Rocco soon picks up a trail, though it brings him into conflict with a powerful family. As Rocco makes slow progress, he starts to uncover a web of intrigue and a bitter legacy left over from the Second World War. To solve the case, Rocco must battle both enemies unseen and French bureaucracy.
Death on the Marais has many good qualities: an interesting main character in Inspector Lucas Rocco, a nice sense of place, and engaging prose that’s easy on the eye. The story unfolds at a fast clip, tugging the reader along, and the plot has a nice mix of a cop out of place and historical intrigue. The main plot is lively and intriguing and the subplot involving Rocco’s new boss, Massin, with whom he has an old enmity, unfolds nicely. There are two flaws in the story, however, which have niggled away at me since finishing the book. It’s difficult to talk about either in specific terms without giving spoilers, however, in general terms: Rocco is thorough in what he does but occasionally he notes to himself that he needs to do something, such as searching somewhere, then ignores it; the killer also leaves a large thorn in the side unresolved and yet is ruthless otherwise. Neither made little sense other than as plot devices and both worked to undermine what was otherwise an fine piece of storytelling. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Death on the Marais and look forward to catching up with Rocco in his next case.