Where Every Man by Charlie Garrett (fourth in the Inspector James Given series)
Published by Sapere Books, 2020
I’ve given myself a short break between sending the first draft of Governor’s Man: The Bronze Owl off to my editor, and beginning the sequel, GM: The Carnelian Phoenix, in which Quintus Valerius and Tiro find themselves plunging round Gaul and on to the Eternal City in pursuit of danger, death and general mayhem. More of that later.
Meanwhile, Sapere Books asked me to read their latest detective thriller, and here is my review, as published today on Amazon. I gave the book three stars.
This is the fourth outing for Charlie Garratt’s British police inspector James Given, now retired and relocated with his young wife Rachel to Brittany.
(Here I should admit to not having read the previous three books. That proved not to be a problem, but means I can’t comment on how this book compares to the previous ones.)
The book is a mashup of detective crime and spy thriller, likely to appeal to fans of Foyle’s War and the like.
It’s March 1940, and we are well into the Phony War, with Germany poised to invade France. James has left his career in the British police after experiencing previous traumatic cases, whilst retaining loose connections with the British Secret Service.
The opening chapter quickly introduces three key characters: librarian Lisette Perron, who [Spoiler alert ] soon turns up dead; the local priest Francis Guen, who is full of surprising information, not to mention confessional secrets, about Madame Perron; and teenager Marie-Clair, Rachel’s music student and soon to become James’ fellow investigator. We’re soon introduced to two other key characters, the local policeman Pascal, and Mayor Alain Sitell. From then on, virtually every man in the village comes under suspicion, falling like dominoes. It’s a difficult place to live a simple honest life.
This quick pace is maintained throughout the book, keeping the action taut. James soon becomes involved, strictly as an amateur, in investigating the death of Lisette Perron. It becomes apparent she is unlikely to have suffered a natural drowning. Pascal, initially hostile to James’s efforts, comes to trust our hero, who is now ably assisted by the keen and strangely mature Marie-Clair, Pascal’s cousin. It’s that kind of French village.
It soon turns out Madame Perron has been a very busy lady, with connections far and wide. The suspects for her murder pile up, and James is hard-pushed to keep up with his investigation while still pulling potatoes and trimming hedges. All sorts of clues and red herrings turn up, from spies to a possibly incriminating will. It’s a good job he has the precocious Marie-Clair to assist. She seems able to easily abstract all sorts of information from the local villagers and suspects.
What a pity then that wife Rachel conceives such a strange jealousy of the gangly school girl. This really begins to spoil life for James as the book plunges on.
Eventually, following his nose, James uncovers the real murderer who is happy to spill a mountain of beans while threatening our hero at length. Thank goodness Marie-Clair appears on the scene, in the proverbial nick of time. And now, finally, James thinks it might be a plan to go home to Blighty. Quickly.
So that’s the story.
Here is my view of it. The undoubted strength of this book is the unusual positioning of the story and main character in a unique time and place. Seeing France at the beginning of the war through the eyes of a British Jew is fascinating. I found that author Charlie Garratt presented a small rural town in Brittany very effectively, and I really enjoyed exploring James’s new life with all the revealing details. It’s a world long gone, and a treat to visit.
That said, I found there to be some flaws in the structure and writing of the book.
To begin with, James is strangely relaxed at moving to France when Hitler has already declared war just over the border, and is making very aggressive noises. James’s dismissal of the Channel being “no major barrier” to the subsequent planned invasion of England is to prove mercifully wrong, which must come as a relief to Churchill.
The notion of a newly-married man of any background, let alone Jewish, giving up the salary of a British detective inspector to move to France as a farm labourer on the eave of the German invasion, really stretches credulity. His occasional musings about going home while they can are unrealistically scuppered by his wife, time after time. Most unlikely, especially as he goes to visit his Jewish relatives who have already fled the Nazis. That visit prompts him to wonder, eventually, whether his “decision to come to France had been entirely sensible.”
Such misgivings don’t last long, despite the reader shrieking at him to grab his wife and run for the nearest Channel port. At least he has the common sense to pretend to be Roman Catholic, and to attend church.
Which brings me on to Father Francis Duen, the remarkably well-informed priest who isn’t at all averse to gossiping with a virtual stranger. On first acquaintance he begins to tell James confidential information about Lisette and all sorts of other people in the village, and James responds in kind, revealing his Jewishness. Not a shrewd move, but not a lethal one either, as it turns out. Whew!
James’s notion of surviving in a foreign country as a farm labourer is not his only marital challenge. James is newly married, but the marriage seems to surf frequent choppy waters already. Why is this? And why is the evidently pretty and talented Rachel so unaccountably jealous of Marie-Clair, a schoolgirl in horn-rimmed specs? I was relieved that we got to the end of the book without a divorce. Still, all’s well that ends well, even after James introduces the vices of drink and gambling into their domestic bliss.
Finally, there were places where a heavier editorial steer could have helped: in one scene James inwardly groans and then immediately “chuckles like a fool”; later he is surprised to find Rachel is capable of ironing despite her musical talent; James rarely walks anywhere, mostly sauntering, ambling, striding, often while thoughts are whirling in his head. And can the undertalented Pascal really display the ability to “drool in the direction of his witness”?
So, overall, do I recommend Where Every Man? Yes, for some readers, given its fast pace and interesting setting. Lovers of war crime and drama who haven’t already met Inspector James Given may well be willing overlook the clunkiness of some of the prose, the poor decision-making of our hero, and the surprise reveal of a country schoolgirl as the next Sherlock Holmes, all for the sake of enjoying the ride.