Death on the Marais
This is the first in a series of crime mysteries set in northern France in the 1960s. Inspector Lucas Rocco, a noir hero in the best tradition, solitary, hard-bitten and haunted by the horrors of his past, in this case the French colonial wars in Indochina. His posting to a quiet village in Picardie during a reorganisation of the police service is the signal for mayhem to break out, beginning with a dead girl dressed in Gestapo uniform in the local military cemetery and ending with spectacular fireworks in a wood still full of ordnance from both World Wars.
Magson is an experienced writer in this genre, which shows in the sheer, slick enjoyability of the read. From the opening, I was happy to place myself in his hands and allow him to manipulate my imagination. I can already see this series translated to Saturday night TV in the run-up to the summer holiday season, and perhaps the citizens of Picardie should brace themselves for an onslaught. Twinning with the county of Midsomer might be a sensible move.
As this review is aimed at lovers of historical fiction, I must offer one caveat and this is that Magson does little more than pay lip service to his historical period. The plot, and Rocco’s personal history, requires an early sixties setting but this is perfunctory. There are passing references to Johnny Halliday, the Beatles (really, in France, in the early summer of ’63?), long hair (ditto) and, clumsiest of all, hippies. Hippies come several years later, especially in socially conservative France. But I am prepared to forgive and forget because this book is so much fun.