An exploration of political oppression wrapped in a carefully constructed mystery.
In Brydon’s auspicious debut, Capitaine Jacques le Garrec is a member of the French Resistance who, after the war, joined the Paris police and, in 1957, was seconded to the intelligence service, serving as an interrogator at al-Mazra’a during the Algerian Revolution. In 1959 he returns to France in disgrace. A “heinous crime” has been committed, and his culpability in it will be determined at a hearing in a week’s time. He is permitted to return home to Sainte-Elisabeth in Brittany until the hearing. When he arrives he is asked by an old friend to investigate the unsolved murder of Anne-Lise Aurigny; as his investigation of this young woman’s death proceeds, the nature of the “heinous crime” is revealed in a series of flashbacks: A young Algerian woman has died in his custody, and in his report, le Garrec accuses the commander of al-Mazra’a, Lt.-Col. Lambert, whose first demand of le Garrec was that he shoot a prisoner, of maintaining a brutal and bigoted colonial rule. This, more than the woman’s death, is his crime. In a parallel conflict, le Garrec must contend with the nihilistic Capt. Lafourgue of the Sainte-Elisabeth police, who believes that the role of the police is to “scare people...to create terror,” and to be “the tentacles of power made visible.” The two commanders are the poles of le Garrec’s existence as he struggles to bring meaning to the deaths of the women, while behind the Algerian sun the spirit of Sartre smiles down. Though the descriptive prose is sometimes overcooked, the characters are alive and the mystery is mostly satisfying.
An erudite and entertaining addition to the shelf.