A high-ranking German sailor is accused of petty, brutal murderAs Allied bombers rain death on the German submarine pens of occupied France, police inspectors Jean-Louis St-Cyr and Hermann Kohler stumble through the darkness to a crime scene. A shopkeeper lies dead, head bashed in with a railway tie, surrounded by fragments of a shattered porcelain doll. It appears to be an open-and-shut case, which would make the detectives’ job simple if the obvious suspect weren’t a decorated U-Boat commander. Feared by the British, beloved by his crew, Kapitän Kaestner is a killer with a hobby: the manufacture of high-quality dolls. Before World War I ruined their business, generations of Kaestners produced the finest dolls on the continent. The shopkeeper’s death comes not long after he and Kaestner fail to revive the dollmaking trade. Now, shrouded by a blackout, St-Cyr and Kohler begin the unenviable task of pinning a murder on the pride of the German fleet.
In this murky police procedural from Canadian author Janes (Kaleidoscope, etc.), the mystery world's most bizarre partnership Jean-Louis St-Cyr, a Vichy France policeman, and Hermann Kohler, a member of the German Gestapo travel from their Paris base in January 1943 to coastal Brittany to investigate the murder of a shopkeeper. Accused of the crime is a highly regarded German U-boat captain, a prot g of Admiral Doenitz. The novel's portrait of occupied France is compelling: the local people are consumed by the realities of wartime deprivation, material and psychological. The plot itself has that kind of muddled complexity typical of many noirish procedurals, but in this case the author's contorted prose makes it more than merely difficult to grasp. The point of view shifts constantly, not just between the two partners, but among virtually everyone of any import, and the reader must often decipher a character's thoughts before the character speaks. At times, the novel reads as if it has been translated, badly, from another language. Janes's penchant for untranslated French and German phrases becomes tiresome, and doesn't really add to the illusion that the novel is set in Europe. Murder is, inevitably, a dark business, but narratives about it deserve more clarity than this novel ever demonstrates. And murder, no matter how compelling, simply cannot compete with the drama that nearly destroyed Europe during WWII. Nonetheless, established fans should enjoy this one as much as others in this nine-book series. FYI:Janes also writes the Rolly series (Murder in the Market) for children.