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Crimes of Winter by Philippe Georget

Newspaper: Harriet Devine's Blog
Date: Aug 2 2017

My long standing passion for crime novels seems to have diminished considerably of late, or perhaps it's more accurate to say that I've become a lot more selective. I've been quite disappointed by books that have apparently set the world on fire, and that's made me more cautious about following trends. But that's not to say that I'm closed to new discoveries - long may that last. And I was intrigued when I read about this one, which sounded as if it might be a bit different from the run of the mill - and so indeed it is. This is a crime novel where the solution of a murder is no mystery, where other kinds of crime take precedence, a police procedural which concentrates as much on the psychology of the main protagonist as it does on the solution of the crime.

This is the third of Georget's books featuring Inspector Gilles Sebag, who lives and works in the historic French town of Perpignan, not far from the Spanish border. He's been married for twenty years to the beautiful Claire, and they have two children. The marriage has always been a happy one and he's as much in love with his wife as ever. But as the novel starts, he makes a discovery - Claire has been having an affair. To say this is a shock is an understatement: 'He felt something like a rip in his belly, a fissure in his life. The world had collapsed'. Claire promises him that the affair is over, that she still loves him and wants their marriage to continue and be happy. But can he trust her? and even if he can, will he be able to deal with the raging emotions that have been set in motion by the revelation?

One of the obvious ways of taking his mind off the turmoil he's experiencing (apart from drinking too much, which he certainly does) is to lose himself in his work. Ironically, though, the case he finds himself dealing with turns out to revolve around marital infidelity. It all starts when a cuckolded husband waits for his wife's lover to leave the hotel where they have spent the past few hours, goes up to the room where his wife is still quietly smoking, and shoots her with his shotgun. The husband is arrested at once, but what puzzles Sebag is not the motive, which is clear, but the question of how he came to know about the affair and where to find the guilty couple. Then two more incidents take place which are seemingly related: a husband throws himself of a balcony to his death after learning of his wife's infidelity, and another man threatens to burn his own house down with his wife inside to punish her for her affair. After some difficult enquiries, it becomes clear that someone is informing these men about their wives' infidelities. There are leads to follow but they all end up being red herrings. The informer is obviously brilliant and has some means of acquiring these secrets, and of taking the photos which he sends out as proof, but nobody can figure out what that can possibly be.

Nobody, that is, apart from Sebag, who is blessed with the kind of intuition so useful to police officers. He combines this with great compassion - probably he has this already, but of course it is intensified by the fact that he can empathise with the victims of the informer, and soon realises that it's likely the informer is doing this as a sort of revenge on his own unfaithful wife. Following the course of the investigation is interesting, as is Sebag's relationship with his fellow police, especially the lively and attractive Julie, who confides in him that she has a female partner, who he later gets to meet. But what really makes this novel stand out is the sensitive way in which Georget portrays the agonies of the deceived husband, as he swings between the longing to revert to the status quo of his previously happy marriage and the pain and anger he feels as a result of Claire's affair.

So there was lots to enjoy here, including of course the setting in the south west of France - it's winter, and temperatures often drop quite a bit, especially when the region's harsh wind, the tramontane, is blowing. However there are also warm days when the sun blazes down, even in January. Sounds like a nice place to live. So yes, I enjoyed it a lot, though I have to say I had a few problems with the translation - French is a notoriously difficult language to translate well, and I found it a bit clunky in places. This is the third of Georget's Sebag novels, and I'm curious to read the first two now. His prizewinning debut novel, published in 2013, is called Summertime, All the Cats are Bored, which sounds like a good place to start. So many thanks to the publisher for this review copy.