Tuesday, 17 May 2016


I have very much enjoyed the first book of Allan Massie's quartet of crime novels set in occupied France, discovered thanks to Cornflower's husband, who galloped through all four in a week - much faster than I read these days, but I'm looking forward to the next in the series. This first book opens in 1940 with the collapse of France and a decent policeman, under orders to collaborate, finds himself increasingly unable to hold off from shabby compromise. Towards the end, seeing his son reading one of Simenon's novels, he wishes that things were as easy for him as for Maigret ... and he does remind me of Maigret, but this is a new order and there are no right choices - people still have to live and if he resigns from the force, or gets kicked out, worse bastards will take his place. Meanwhile, Massie captures all the atmosphere of France, bars and brasseries and slugs of Armagnac in one's coffee and lunches of partridge with red cabbage and a nice St-Emilion  - well, I do like books with food and it reminded me that the one and only time I ever visited Bordeaux was the only time I ever tasted lampreys. Highly recommended. The book, that is. The lampreys were interesting.

11 comments:

Mr Cornflower said...

Hi Mary, I'm relieved that having read the book on my recommendation you actually enjoyed it! It's interesting that a lot of the crime fiction I enjoy has a really good sense of place, and Massie's Bordeaux joins Donna Leon's Venice and Ian Rankin's Edinburgh in that respect. I'm with you on lampreys though.

mary said...

Thank you, Mr Cornflower - and it's good to have three more to look forward to. I've never read Donna Leon and I never really got started on Ian Rankin, maybe I should have another go. The lampreys were a one-off; at least we can say we've done it.

Ginny said...

From the American side of the Atlantic, and an island off the coast of Massachusetts -- we used to have lampreys in one of the Mill Ponds here and they certainly were unappealing. Fifty years ago (when I had a young family and did a lot more cooking) an elderly neighbor brought me some Great Pond eels. He suggested a good way to cook them, which I followed to the letter. Frankly, I ended up giving them to the cats as no one in the family would eat them and after watching them wiggle a bit while I was cooking them I had no interest either.

I look forward to reading the book however.

mary said...

I used to wait for the bus to work each morning at a bus-stop right by an old-fashioned London pie and eel shop, Ginny; in the window were three containers of live eels of varying widths - and I'd stand gloomily looking at them wriggling. (I hated that job!) I've never been able to fancy them, not jellied or in liqor - though smoked eel is okay. I have an elderly neighbour who used to run a pub and she'll happily boil up a panful if anyone catches a big one.
No eels or lampreys in the book so I hope you enjoy it!

Audrey said...

Oh, definitely try Donna Leon, for the food (and the books) in the books if nothing else.:) But I'd start with one of the earlier ones ... I think she's getting a little grumpy in the latest books, though I still enjoy them very much.

mary said...

She is definitely on my list, Audrey - so many reliable people have recommended her.

Camille de Fleurville said...

What a coincidence,Mary, I live some 80/100 kms north-east from Bordeaux in the Dordogne!
Here is a link to pictures of The Village where I live with my wards who "suffer" from Down Syndrome: http://camilledefleurville.blogspot.fr/2015/07/the-first-holiday-makers-are-here.html
We are not far from Périgueux, the main town of la Dordogne. No lampreys or eels for us: this is a typical dish from around Bordeaux - the Garonne/Girond estuary.
Mr Cornflower seems to have good taste. That was such a difficult period for France. And Bordeaux was in first line as the true and legitimate government was flying France from Bordeaux while we were left with Pétain and the stupid humiliation to surrender to the Nazi. It must be a very strong novel.

mary said...

I've had some lovely holidays in your region, Camille - but you don't paint a very good picture of British holidaymakers, and I hope we weren't as noisy as that! No, we didn't eat eels, but I remember lots of duck and cassoulet. I would love to go back some day.
Mr Cornflower does have good taste and I think I've followed up his recommendations before.

mary said...

PS Meant to say that I love the painting on your blog, Camille, it's one of my favourites from the art gallery in Manchester,near where I grew up. It epitomises a kind of gracious living that I've never achieved in real life! (Expect there were a few housemaids skivvying in the background!)

Camille de Fleurville said...

All holidaymakers are using flip-flops, flowery shirts or loose T-shirts, baggy trousers or shorts or skinny shirts. It is part of the holiday making. My British friends are more prim -but they are over 65! It is a game between the holiday makers and The Village Citizens, Mary: we would miss it immensely were it not back again each year. And how would we ke the difference between "nos Anglais" ad the others?
We have apopuation of part-time and full UK residents. One lady is at the head of the choir. We meet some at the newsagent's, more in the aisles of the supermarkets, the oe belonging to The Village, and others around.
I have tried to create a reading group that would be half French and half English where one month, we would have read and commented a book in English, and the following monthe, same exercise in French. I had no answer from the the British side and am wholly disappointed.
I used to live abroad as a child, and then in Paris, and tend to find Village life rather constricted.
We do not have ducks with cassoulet - this is closer to Toulouse. We have foie gras de canard or d'oie, truffles, cèpes, confit de canard, strawberries, and local recipes. All these to make put on weight!
If you are interested by botany, mysteries and la Dordogne, there is a good series by a Canadian author(ess) who lives part time in Dordogne. Her name is Michelle Wan. She gives a good idea of the atmosphere in a small village and the pots are twisted as I like them.
Thank you for the compliment about the painting. There was the equivalent of this gracious living at home before. It is well dead now!

mary said...

Oh yes, I remember going to one restaurant that only served duck - and I was with a friend who doesn't like duck!
What a shame about the reading group, it sounds such a good idea. Is it worth trying again? Perhapsif you invited three or four people individually to get you started? The Anglais can be a bit backwards in coming forward!
At least you had your gracious living moment ... perhaps mine is yet to come! Getting the hoover out would be a start!