Translated by Steven Rendall
Review by Terence Jagger
He moved cautiously forward through the tall grass, following a trail of broken stems. And it was there, in a miniscule clearing made by the mortal struggle of two bodies, that he found the bloody corpse of the young Dutch woman.
This is the predecessor novel to Autumn: All the Cats Return, which I reviewed here and was first published in 2009, but has just been reissued in English by Europa. It’s his debut novel, and I liked it a lot, perhaps more in fact than Autumn. I see that I wrote of that one that “This is a complex murder mystery set in Perpignan, but its essential Frenchness is augmented and challenged by the Catalan themes, and the roots of the investigation in France’s troubled Algerian past.” Well, the Catalan themes are still present but not intrusive, but this novel is more contained, and is concerned with local people and tourists at a busy seaside resort – there are no significant political overtones, although there is still a fair degree of complexity, but of an engaging and enjoyable sort. The detective, Inspector Gilles Sebag, is happily married (though doubting his wife’s fidelity), and still friendly and engaging, not painfully driven or oppressed like so many modern detectives. And, having read this novel, I still don’t know what’s with the cats of the title!
Three young Dutch tourists are involved in different crimes – first a murder on the beach itself, late at night (not in Perpignan, away from Sebag’s area), an abduction from the city, and an attempted kidnapping, both on his patch. They are all young, attractive, and Dutch, but what else is the connection? Are they linked, or are all these separate crimes? Sebag is working with his local colleagues and a bright young officer from Paris, who puts noses out of joint, and is perhaps just a little too sure of himself. But Sebag – a little on the lazy side, and maybe a tad disillusioned too – backs his hunch, and breaking a few rules, follows the case to its end.
But all the time, he worries about his wife and children, and loses himself a little from time to time in the landscape, language and food of the region.
Through a square opening in the west facade, he contemplated Le Canigou. The Catalans’ sacred mountain was trying to retain in its hollows the last marks of winter. Spring had come late, and now, at the end of June, there was still some snow. Clinging to the mountain’s folds, it made the relief more noticeable. Le Canigou, veined in white under the sun, was more majestic than ever.
It was time to leave.
Sebag didn’t feel like going to work. He was finding it increasingly difficult to put up with the routine of his job.
The first hint of trouble that Sebag hears of comes from none of these three crimes, but is a report of a missing taxi driver. There doesn’t seem much to go on at first, but gradually the missing man becomes a slightly mysterious figure, with some surprising contacts and a sideline in distinctly suspicious transactions – and he doesn’t seem to drive his taxi very much. A link appears to one of the crimes quite soon, but the overall picture remains obscure, confused too by vague suggestions of terrorism, and by a completely unrelated smuggling case.
I won’t explore the plot much further, to avoid spoilers, except to say that Sebag is soon chosen by the perpetrator of (one of?) the crimes – or is he just a mischievous bystander? – for a string of communications which are not helpful, but have the appearance of a game, but a game which must could end in tragedy for more than one person. Tension rises on the team: To make a long story short, Superintendent, we have our asses in a sling.
All in all, it’s a rather superior murder mystery with a whiff of romance, the perfect thing for a hotel terrace in France this summer – or, more likely, for a deck chair under a tree in the garden at home!
Philippe Georget, Summertime, All the Cats are Bored Europa Editions, May 2021 ISBN 978 1 78770 309 4 430pp, paperback £8.99.
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