In Vichy, France, the French police continue to operate and to uphold the law within limitations placed upon them by their German occupiers. Auguste Ran has accepted the situation and has followed orders as best he can in the belief that he is serving the good of France. This blind acceptance is challenged and finally destroyed when a young French student is found raped and murdered. Sure the culprit is Helmut Brunner, a German Security Police major, Auguste is nonetheless thwarted at every level in his attempts to indict him.
The scales fall from Auguste’s eyes and he realises that he has been complicit in the Nazi atrocities and crimes against the Jewish locals. Determined to make amends, he agrees to hide the daughter of his greatest childhood friend, Pierre, a freedom fighter and a Jew. In doing so he risks not only his life, but those of his wife and daughter. Yet once started, he will do all in his power to keep his promise to Pierre and also to prevent Brunner from striking again. It is a pledge that will cleanse Auguste’s soul but cost him dearly.
The Cyclist examines what it was like to live under an aggressive victor and highlights just how easy it is for even a good man to become deaf and blind to genocide and to keep his head down and simply “follow orders.” There is a palpable sense of fear pervading the pages, where every knock at the door can signal death and disaster. At the conclusion, there is a breath of redemption and then an aftertaste of bitterness, because the greater good can so easily be won only at the cost of personal sorrow and loss.
This is a haunting and bittersweet novel that stays with you long after the final chapter – always the sign of a really well-written and praiseworthy story. It would also make an excellent screenplay.