This is a bleak tale of personal vengeance set in Bordeaux, France, where memories of the German occupation remain fresh in the late 1950s as the country faces a new conflict in Algeria.
French writer Le Corre (Talking to Ghosts, 2014, etc.), known for his crime fiction, has the basics of the genre at work here while history supplies characters and motives. Andre Vaillant has returned to his hometown in Bordeaux in 1958 seeking revenge against Police Superintendent Albert Darlac, who betrayed him during World War II. In a plot with several narrative streams and expansive psychological portraits, Le Corre gradually reveals Vaillant’s experiences at Auschwitz and during a postwar period in Paris before he comes home with plans to hurt people tied to Darlac. Vaillant’s son, Daniel, whom he was forced to leave behind during the war, copes with military life in Algeria in some of the novel’s most compelling scenes. At the center of everything is the monstrous Darlac, who controls much of Bordeaux’s illicit activities with favors and sadism, as he did during the occupation, when “all cops were collaborators.” It’s an ambitious work, and Le Corre doesn’t entirely succeed in melding the many parts into a cohesive whole, but even somewhat digressive segments enrich characters and themes. Meanwhile, the police are busy with a string of murders, all blamed on Vaillant but not all committed by him. The other culprit is Darlac, who uses the investigation to mask killings he commits for his personal agenda: one cop, two henchmen, and two people close to home. He also beats and rapes his wife and barely controls his passion for their 15-year-old daughter. His unrelenting cruelty is excessive, as is Le Corre’s prose at times, but the writing is generally high-end noir or better and well served by the translation.
Graphic in its violence but rich in history and psychology, this novel is vivid proof that “after the war, sometimes the war continues.”