R. ROBERT JANES. Mayhem (1992).

05 May

Occupied France, 1942. In the shadow of the wholesale murder known as war, killing continues at a retail level. Clues found near the bludgeoned body of a young man in a forest outside Paris lead a pair of detectives to a salon of plus haute couture, to a smoky boîte graced by an entrancing chanteuse, to a grand estate that boasts a garden maze and a tower, to a severe and remote monastery, and to sundry other places where the French strive—with style but without success—to go on as if the Nazi boot were not at their throat. The latter challenge is especially acute for Jean-Louis St.-Cyr of the Sûreté Nationale, who must investigate this murder with a Gestapo operative named Hermann Kohler at this side.

MayhemBig.jpg Janes handles the relationship between St.-Cyr and Kohler with subtlety and flair. In his telling, the two men forge an improbable yet convincing bond as they confront the “mayhem” inflicted by both the German SS and the French Résistance, and by other parties, too. The bond solidifies as St.-Cyr and Kohler explore various forms of “mirage” that swirl about the case: the mirage cast by several of the women whom they encounter; the mirage cast by French society, high and low. (Mirage was the title of the book’s first UK edition.) Janes does less well by his readers, however. He treats elliptically too much of what he should make clear—What really happened to the husband of the chanteuse, for instance?—and he adds complications where he should remove them. The fog of war provides an ideal context for a tale of mystery, but the fog of narrative confusion should lift at some point.

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Posted by on May 5, 2010 in Historical, International, Novel, Procedural


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