Posted: July 5, 2014 in France, Germany, review

51U8X7q1IhL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_I suppose after reading a lot of books by Fred Vargas I should be used to that very Gallic quirky crime fiction of which The Cemetery of Swallows is a good example.

The multitalented author Jean-Denis Bruel-Ferreol writes under the pseudonym Mallock, and his detective is Superintendent Amedee Mallock, a tactic that throws the reader slightly off balance. I assume this is the first book in a series to be translated into English, because we are told in the narrative about the police superintendent’s detective team operating from “Fort Mallock”, and Amedee’s personal tragic loss of his wife and son, Thomas. 

Mallock is sent to the Dominican Republic to bring back to France to face trial Manuel Gemoni, the brother of police Captain Julie Gemoni one of his detectives. One morning the mild mannered Manuel after viewing a documentary video travels to the Dominican Republic, and kills an old man who he has never met.

Mallock discovers that the old man Manuel killed was Tobias Darbier, a man who inspired fear and loathing. A man with a past full of violence and terror.

“His story [Darbier’s] is the same as the island’s. he arrived in 1946 and spent the first three years working for the dictator, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo.”

He ruled by terror, torture, and political assassination.

The Cemetery of Swallows is not a “who did it mystery”, but a “why did he do it enigma”. As the story moves from the jungles, mountains, trigger happy gunmen and voodoo of the Caribbean island to the frozen streets of Paris Mallock tries to connect a story of terrible Nazi atrocities that occurred before Manuel was born, but of which he has detailed knowledge, to the killing of Darbier. 

The book is well written with interesting characters, and a clever but predictable plot in which clues are presented to  the detectives, but ignored as more bizarre explanations are pursued. I should warn that when authors write about men like Darbier, Trujillo and the Nazis you have to be prepared for descriptions of extreme violence, and the tactics of terror, but nothing more than we can read in our newspapers every day.  

Mallock, the author, provides his readers with little snippets of wisdom, in a very dark story.

Master Long is not at ease in France. He always resented Western intellectuals, Sartre and his dirty hands and his pathetic imitators gulping down champagne when the Khmer Rouge entered Hanoi. Lenin, Mao, Stalin: the radiant “past” of communism consisted of at least a hundred million dead.

But this is a French crime story set partially in Paris so we also see a different side of  Amedee Mallock.

Around 7 P.M., Amedee decided to prepare his bass.

He cleaned the fish and filled it with sprigs of fennel, peppercorns and salt before frying it on bothsides. Then he wrapped it in foil and let it cook while he opened a bottle of Pouilly-Fume. After taking off its aluminium carapace, he sprinkled the fish with a mixture of vinegar, finely sliced papper, olive oil and sea salt.     

I can recommend The Cemetery of Swallows if you want a crime fiction book that is original, and gripped this reader from the first page.    

  1. I have this on my list of possibles – it sounds very interesting, but I’m worried it might be too violent/gruesome for me….

    • MarinaSofia says:

      It’s not as gruesome as some others I’ve read. It’s more like the historical accounts of WW2 or the atrocities in ex-Yugoslavia – the sort of things you read about in the news.

  2. Norman Price says:

    Moira, I suspect it would be far too gruesome in places.
    Darbier does bad things in the forests of Northern France in 1944.

    • Norman Price says:

      Thanks MarinaSofia, it is fairly gruesome we are talking about cannibalism and eating human babies. 😦 I moved quickly through that bit but I am not sure how strong a stomach Moira has.

  3. Thanks for helpful input, both – still can’t decide. (I am quite good at skim-reading bits I don’t like!)

  4. kathy d. says:

    What? Cannabalism and eating babies? I bought this book and loaned it to a friend. I didn’t know this. Now I’m not sure I’ll read it. That’s beyond my limits. Who commits those atrocities? Nazis or Trujilloists?

  5. Norman Price says:

    Kathy that is the Nazis. It is a passage that could be skimmed.

  6. kathy d. says:

    OK. I’m relieved. My friend, who loves Fred Vargas’ books, liked this one, but still likes her better.

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