Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Review of Death in Bordeaux by Allan Massie (Quartet Books, 2010)

In the spring of 1940, an old family friend of Superintendent Lannes is found dead in an alley in Bordeaux.  The victim had clearly been tortured and mutilated.  Lannes starts to investigate, suspecting that the man had been murdered not because of his sexuality but for political reasons.  The phoney war is holding, politicians are posturing, and he is soon warned to drop the case.  Lannes, however, is unwilling to fully let go, continuing to probe, all the while worrying about his son who has been drafted into the army and is positioned facing the Germans.  In the meantime, he investigates hate mail sent to a prominent Bordeaux family, headed by a callous patriarch.  As France falls and a new government is put in place, Lannes has to adjust to working in a police force collaborating with the enemy.  He still hasn’t let the original case drop, but pursuing it becomes increasingly dangerous and he has to contemplate letting justice slide to avoid becoming a victim himself; a compromise he has difficulty coming to terms with.

The premise of Death in Bordeaux - a cop constrained by circumstance - is an interesting one.  Massie manages to keep the uncertainty and concessions working until the last page, but the tension is undermined somewhat by a fairly long-winded narrative, pedestrian pace, and the contrived nature of the plot concerning de Grimaud family.  Lannes is an interesting enough cop, dogged and reflective, who worries for the safety of his family, and feels increasingly at sea in the new political terrain, and the characterisation in general is nicely done.  And there is a good sense of place and historical contextualisation.  However, I never really connected with the story, which felt ponderous and flat.  Overall, a run of the mill, historical police procedural.

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