by Manda Scott, Penguin Random House, 2018
I’d like to say that everything about this detective thriller is perfect.
Disclosure: I should declare up front that I am a huge fan of Manda Scott, and have loved her books since I discovered the first of her Boudica series, “Dreaming the Eagle”. I love her intelligence, her beautiful writing, her captivating characterisation, and the way she effortlessly slides us across time in all her writing, making the past scintillating in shape and brilliant to our minds as we pursue her intricate plots. This novel, the second in her Capitaine Inès Picaut series of detective novels, lifts the bar even higher in breathless pace, complex plotting and absorbing historical detail.
But let me pause a moment. What I love most about Manda’s writing is the complexity. By the same token, it is the complexity of her plot that presents the most challenging aspect of this book. That and the indefatigable detail of her historical research. The reader has to be prepared to put in some hard work to keep up with the twists and turns in the story, even more than in her previous Picaut outing. I won’t give any spoilers, dear reader; but let me venture the barest bones of a warning: this book is not an easy read. It will grab you by the neck, and worry you like an aggressive attack dog. It will captivate you; but it will not be an easy skim read.
Right, you are now warned. Back to the story.
Picaut, a police detective in the French city of Orléans, damaged by her previous adventures in “Into the Fire”, is catapulted too soon into a high profile murder investigation against the backdrop of a sensitive international security conference being held in Orléans. So no pressure there.
But before Picaut can get out of her car early one Sunday morning in 2018 to confront her first corpse, we are taken back to the brutal days of the French Resistance in 1942. From that point the modern and historical timelines intertwine, ever more incestuously. We meet a cast of French maquisards, beginning with Special Operations Executive volunteer Elodie Monin (or is really her?) and on to her colleagues of various nationalities and often obscure motivations. Then there are the British officers who train and run them throughout the war. And there’s the charismatic Sturmbannführer Kramme, Elodie’s nemesis – or is he?
In fact, hardly anyone is who they seem. Including the employees of the modern-day film company Picaut must liaise with to solve an elongating line of murders, all reaching back into the dark days of the Nzi occupation. And then the CIA shoulder into the action.
On top of that, there are a profusion of personal relationships to factor in, reaching out from the past to shape the present. Who loves whom, who betrays whom – these are questions with shocking answers, looming larger the more Picaut flounders in the mire of the past. On top of which, Picaut has her own heart to answer to…
So, an entanglement of twisting murders, wartime treachery, love affairs and long-lived consequences. If, as I said at the start of this review, you can keep up with Manda’s erudition and pace, I guarantee you a perfect thriller: a whirlwind of a ride right through the story, with a deeply satisfying conclusion.