More about Autumn All The Cats Return

Posted: October 6, 2014 in Book Awards, Catalonia, France, Historical, review

My previous post about Philippe Georget’s second book in the Inspector Sebag series said that it had a promising beginning. That promise was definitely fulfilled and my dettaglio_282interest was maintained throughout the entire 430 pages. The three strands of the plot are cleverly interwoven with back stories of the murderous activities of an OAS group in Algeria in 1962, the hunt, lead by Gilles Sebag, for the murderer of elderly former Frenchmen from Algeria [Pied-noir], and the intriguing family life of the detective who is constantly worried by thoughts that his beautiful wife Claire has had an extra marital affair.

The reader is also given insights into the mind of the elderly murderer although we don’t get fully informed about his motives until the conclusion. Although the interactions between the team of detectives are quite well done this book concentrates more on the character of Gilles Sebag, a man perhaps too nice to be a policeman. He listens to the Pied-Noir and it is pointed out that not all were supporters of the OAS.

The politics of France have always been complex and you would need to be a Talleyrand or a Mitterand to stay on the right side of history.

Our France was the France of the 1930 centenary celebration of the conquest of Algeria. At that time, the colonization of Algeria was the glory of France, and the colonist was seen as a courageous and hardworking man, a hero, a veritable cowboy of the Far South. Those of us who lived in Algeria saw things that way in the autumn of 1954, when the war began, and we still did in 1962, when the war ended………

For the metropolitan French, we were no longer heroes but rich exploiters, unjust and racist. The glory of France had become its shame.

And this biased view became the historical truth.

The Algerian War 1954-1962 was a vicious conflict, and since independence hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have died in Algeria’s disastrous civil conflicts. I think Philippe Georget managed this incendiary subject rather well  in Autumn All The Cats Return and gave readers something to think about because some of the world’s present conflicts date back to the age of colonialism when France and Britain drew lines on maps to create nations without much thought as to the ethnic makeup of those countries. 

Parts of this novel reminded me of Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal as Sebag and his team hunt for the elderly killer on both sides of the Franco-Spanish border  from the rugby playing towns of Southern France to the soccer territory of South Catalonia. Jacques Molina, Sebag’s colleague, is a rugby fan, and ….

Sebag was looking at the photos that Jacques had put up behind him. They all dated from June 2009, the year the local rugby team had finally won its seventh national championship after fifty-four years of trying. One of the pictures particularly impressed Sebag. It showed the team’s return to Perpignan the day after its victory: an enormous dense crowd of fansin red and yellow was massed in front of the Castillet………

On that day…………he’d been sorry not to be a Catalan.

The author wrote that in 2012 and in a bittersweet reversal of fortune Perpignan, champions of France in 2009, in 2013 were relegated to the second division of French professional rugby. 

This book is an excellent read, a contender for the CWA International Dagger, and you don’t have to be an historian or a rugby fan, Sebag isn’t, to enjoy the story of the hunt for a geriatric assassin. The character of Sebag is compelling and I will hopefully read the next book in the series to discover what secrets Claire may be hiding from Gilles.  

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – Very glad to hear that this one kept your interest all the way through. It does sound like a very effective blend of history and a corker of a plot. And I can’t help it; I like the title.

  2. MarinaSofia says:

    I thought the first book was very promising, charming and effective in creating atmosphere and presenting us with a rather nice inspector, so I look forward to continuing the story. And yes, that period of French history is still very much fraught with lies, denials, guilt.

  3. kathy d. says:

    It sounds like a good book, even for me with my definite views on all of this. I don’t think Britain, France or any other European country cared about the needs, feelings and sovereignty of the peoples whose countries they took over, the many whose land was taken, livelihoods, thus further impoverishing them. Also, the psychological damage done by colonization, was great.

    Even so, I’d like to read this book if I ever get the time.

    • Norman Price says:

      Kathy I have just finished reading Sycamore Row by John Grisham, a book set in the state of Mississippi.
      Someone less liberal than myself might say that the USA is also not above criticism in the treatment of countries and peoples from whom they took sovereignty and freedom.
      The impoverishment and psychological damage inflicted by colonialism can only explain part of the post colonial events such as the Rwandan Genocide, the Cambodian Killing Fields, the massacres during the Partition of India, the Algerian Civil War, the Biafran War, and the current situation in Syria/ Iraq. It could be said that colonialism for all its repression kept a lid on hatreds that lay just beneath the surface.
      British Colonialism did at least provide an educational and administrative structure and if life was hard in the colonies it wasn’t too pleasant in the sweatshops and slums of Victorian England either.

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