Archive for the ‘Catalonia’ Category

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.  

dettaglio_282The almanacks say that Summer ends on 31 August so it was with impeccable timing that Daniela Petracco, director of Europa Editions London office, recently sent me Phillipe Georget’s new Inspector Sebag mystery, Autumn All The Cats Return [French title- Les violents de l’automne].

This is the sequel to Summertime, All the Cats Are Bored which was one of my five favourite  reads of 2013.

When an elderly Pied-Noir is found murdered and the letters OAS left scrawled in black paint on the door, Gilles  Sebag and Jacques Molina must investigate whether the motive for the crime dates back to the Algerian War.

Pied-Noir, literal translation Black-Foot. A French person born in Algeria before it gained independence.

OAS [Organisation armee secrete] A dissident paramilitary organization that sought to prevent Algeria from gaining independence from French rule during the Algerian War [1954-1962]

Sebag has also promised his 13 year old daughter Severine that he would look into the scooter accident that caused the death of Mathieu one of her friends from school. A small van driven by Pascal Lucas a man who had been drinking, and who claimed he was forced to swerve by a white Renault Clio that ran a stop sign. Sebag does not have much confidence in the head of the Accidents group Lieutenant Esteve Cardona, who dislikes Gilles because he is a Parisian, and a considerably better detective, and they argue about Sebag’s interference.

“Cardona’s as stupid as he is nasty. But what can I say? He’s not even a real Catalan. His father came from Andalusia!”

The tale of a criminal investigation with an intriguing political and historical background, blended in with the  story of Gilles marriage to the beautiful Claire, and his love for his children Severine and Leo promise to make this a great read.

The reader is given glimpses of the past in narrative flashbacks to Algiers 1961, with accounts of the murders perpetrated by the OAS. Of course the OAS would claim they were responding to FLN attacks. [FLN- Front de Liberation Nationale founded in 1954 to end French rule of Algeria].

“As a Catalan, how would you feel if you’d had to leave your native country?”

“You can’t make that comparison, it’s completely different!”

“Is it? Why?” 

“Algeria wasn’t their country!”

“They were born there, and their parents and grandparents, too, sometimes.” “Maybe, but that doesn’t change anything: it wasn’t their country. It couldn’t last. The crusades didn’t last either. They should have known that.” 

Quite a bit to think about in that passage. 

How long does a conquest have to last before the conqueror claims the land as their own? What happens when the original people of the land want it back? I am only on page 109 so I may have more to say when I have finished reading this very promising book.   

female crime writersA photographic celebration of female crime writers for International Women’s Day.

Barcelona police Inspector Hector Salgado has lost his temper and beaten up Dr Omar, a scumbag running a “clinic” that was involved in trafficking of young girls mainly from Nigeria. His superior Superintendent Savall asks him to stay away from that case and look into the apparent suicide of Marc whose mother Joana Vidal has asked him to find out whether the young man had jumped, fell or was pushed from a high window. The trafficking, the police brutality allegation and the subsequent disappearance of Dr Omar will be dealt with by Salgado’s colleague Sergeant Martina Andreu, and a new girl Leire Castro. Salgado will mix with some of Barcelona’s wealthy, but dysfunctional families, as he tries to discover the truth. A search which will lead back to another case, the death of a child over a decade earlier.

It is always exciting when a new author begins a debut novel with fascinating characters that the reader can learn about and hopefully follow over a series of books. When the author covers such a wide range of subjects from Catholic priests and drugs to voodoo and lesbians, and charts numerous sexual and social interactions between the large cast of characters I wonder whether he has given us too much to digest in one book. I really enjoyed reading The Summer Of Dead Toys  but sometimes I was confused as I had forgotten who was who. That might not worry a younger reader with a more efficient thinking machine.

‘Whatever you say. But, in that case, we split the bill.’

‘Never. My religion forbids it.’

‘I hope it doesn’t forbid you eating duck as well.’

‘I’m not sure about that. I’ll have to seek advice.’

She laughed. ‘Well seek it tomorrow…..just in case.’

Salgado, Andreu and Castro are interesting characters and I liked all the details of their personal lives, which means I want to see what happens to them in further books. But next time I will make myself a chart to follow their complicated lives and investigations. The complex plot, well drawn characters and interesting location make this a sophisticated and welcome new entry into crime fiction genre. 

‘No one has ever been killed out of love; that’s a fallacy from tango. One only kills out of greed, spite or jealousy, believe me. Love has nothing to do with it.’