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COLD IRON by Nicolas Freeling



Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Viking

Henri Castang, middle-aging junior commissaire of the Police Judiciaire (Castang's City, etc.), is now transferred to a dreary provincial town in northeastern France. So he soon has a new case: the suffocation murder of Mme. Lecat, the loose, boozy wife of a suave, decadent wine tycoon. Lecat himself is the primary suspect, of course--until he too is dead, struck down on his estate grounds by some sort of saber or harpoon. Castang then concentrates on the servants, on Lecat's office staff, and--above all--on Mme. Lecat's edgy relatives: her inhibited sister; her stuffy brother-in-law, a military gent of the old school; and her Lolita-ish niece, who may or may not have been corrupted by salacious Uncle Lecat. The investigation takes Castang to Brussels brothels (of the posher sort), to the offices of local bureaucrats (who apply the usual pressures), and finally to confrontations with two very different killers. As usual, however, the plot pleasures are modest here, overshadowed by Freeling's quirky style: odd, slangy dialogue, mixing (sometimes awkwardly) British and American idioms with French manners; ironic, free-associative musings--sociological, philosophical, literary (""No time alas for betjemanesque transports""); and earthy reminders that ""people don't realize quite how much police work is looking up behinds."" Offbeat, low-key entertainment--for those who've acquired the Freeling taste.