Chief inspector Louis St-Cyr of the Sureté Nationale and his partner, Detektivinspektor der Kriminalpolizei Hermann Kohler, travel to Vittel in German-occupied France in February 1943. Two murders have been committed at one of the resort hotels, now used as internment camps for American and British women. One victim, clutching a yellow star, was killed with a pitchfork; the other was pregnant and discovered at the bottom of an elevator shaft. The detectives must discover the murderer’s identity and motive, hopefully before another woman dies. Complicating the investigation are the petty jealousies between the Americans and British, a monk who provides herbs and war news to the women, a kleptomaniac, a medium who overcharges clients, a Senegalese fortuneteller, and a new commandant who tries to intimidate everyone, including St-Cyr and Kohler.
The historical background and synopsis intrigued me, but the telling made the story difficult to follow. Red herrings abound, and the detectives themselves sometimes lead the reader down incorrect paths as they attempt to unravel the intricate conspiracies that link the victims and the suspects. In actuality, there isn’t just one crime to solve, but several. This fact and the author’s murky writing style add to the reader’s confusion. Occasionally, the detectives recap what they know and don’t know, which helps clue in the reader. The time frame of the investigation is short, but the suspects hold their secrets and their knowledge from the detectives until forced to reveal what they know. Even the excitement of the climax fails to mollify the slow overarching pace and bewilderment of the story. Readers familiar with the St-Cyr/Kohler mysteries, however, may enjoy this latest case.