THE FREE FRENCHMAN by Piers Paul Read

THE FREE FRENCHMAN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In occupied France, Read finds a setting imposing enough to accommodate his first-string passions (which have occasionally given way to empty melodrama in his more domestic outings). Bertrand de Roujay, strongly dosed in Catholicism as a boy, is a 30-year-old civil servant when he's captivated by Madeleine Bonnet, the intellectual and ravishing daughter of a famous professor. They marry and eventually play out a short-lived marriage in Mezac, where Bertrand has been appointed subprefect. As the marriage fades, Bertrand (who's neither brave nor particularly idealistic, but, in the best sense, serious), must confront a stagnating career. When Germany invades France, Bertrand comes to. He's astounded by the passivity of his countrymen, who are leaping over each other to ingratiate themselves with the new Vichy government, so he smuggles himself to London to join de Gaulle, to make a name--a Career--for himself with the Free French. Back home, Madeleine's now a Marxist, and many of Bertrand's old friends are members of the Fortitude resistance group. Bertrand's secretly landed to pave the way for de Gaulle, but someone--one of the old circle?--betrays him to the Nazis. He's eventually set free, but his ambitions atrophy as the liberating forces approach, bloody chaos reigns, and scores, old and new, are brutally settled. While characterization, especially of the women, is sometimes slim, the novel is a deft mesh of dozens of characters (each has a full house of ideologies and motives) and ample action (both military and emotional). All this whiffs towards a hold-your-breath concluding sequence. In all: Read at his novelistic best.

Pub Date: April 3rd, 1987
Publisher: Random House