As I mentioned in my previous post, I have a serious backlog of books to review from my recent period of purdah. And, of those, a small (but generally wonderful) number are books that were very kindly made available to me by publishers for review. I feel terribly guilty about this and so this, and the next few, posts will be my attempt to catch up on these.
The first of these is Autumn, All the Cats Return, a member of the Europa Editions' World Noir stable, provided to me by Europa so that I could write a piece for the equally brilliant Shiny New Books site. As is evident from the fact that Terence Jagger produced this excellent review for SNB, I singularly failed to do so (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!).
As I've not yet read a duff World Noir publication, I wasn't surprised that I thoroughly enjoyed Autumn, All the Cats Return. I like my Euro noir to reek of its home country and, from its preposterously elliptic title (and the original French, "Les Violents d'Automne is no better) to its gloriously laconic hero, Gilles Sebag, and its drippingly atmospheric setting in Perpignan, this novel is about as Gallic as Gauloises, Depardieu, Asterix and sneering Anglophobia. I loved it.
The book opens with the discovery of a murdered pensioner, executed in his home with a single bullet in the neck. Above him, the initials, "OAS" have been daubed in black paint. The OAS, of course, was the far-right paramilitary group, formed in the early '60s to resist any moves by France to give Algeria its independence, and which infamously attempted to assassinate General de Gaulle after he signed the Evian agreement that granted Algeria her independence.
But what does this all mean? Was the pensioner a former member of the OAS, killed by an Algerian immigrant? Or was this a resurgence of the OAS and a killing of one of its enemies? Soon after the killing a controversial monument to the OAS in Perpignan is vandalised and Sebag becomes convinced that the two are linked as part of a revenge campaign against the remnants of the OAS.
What ensues is a police procedural, combined with a wealth of noir tropes, all set against a rich Franco-Catalan background and interwoven with an exploration of the violent and complex history of Algerian independence and the OAS.
Sebag is almost your classic noir detective. As prone to inner monologues as any noir hero, Sebag is cynical and fatalistic. From the beginning, his disillusion comes across:
"The last few years, he’d found his work disagreeable. The routine, the violence, the lack of internal recognition, the citizens’ scorn. You had to put up with all that, and for what? When he’d enlisted in the police force, he’d imagined he’d be a kind of physician for a sick society. It took him a while to understand that he was no more than a minor nurse doomed to dress suppurating wounds with outdated ointments. Criminality would never stop, it couldn’t stop, it was part of human nature."
On top of this, Sebag is convinced his wife has been having an affair and is tortured by his internal debate as to whether to confront her about it or not.
About the only thing that stops him from being pretty much an archetype noir detective is the fact that, his suspicions (which may or may not be baseless) about his wife's fidelity apart, he is happily married with an adoring teenage daughter. This latter becomes important to the plot as she asks her father to investigate the apparent hit and run death of one of her friends, a death that Sebag comes to believe may be linked to his case.
Ever since I read The Day of the Jackal as a boy, I've had an interest in the OAS and France's retreat from Algeria and so Autumn, All the Cats Return was always going to appeal to me. What I didn't expect, though, was to find the hero so intriguing and likeable.
Autumn, All the Cats Return is the second in Philippe Georget's series of novels featuring Gilles Sebag. I haven't yet (and the key word is, "yet") read the first, Summertime, All the Cats Are Bored (and please don't ask what cats have to do with anything here because I haven't a scooby) but, although there are clear references back to it, Autumn, All the Cats Return is eminently readable without having read the earlier book.
Crticisms? Well, yes. I hate, absolutely hate, the title. Otherwise, it's a great read and another piece of evidence to support my growing conviction that I can simply pick up any World Noir publication, safe in the knowledge that it will be interesting and enjoyable.