Police Procedurals in Three Countries

Serial killers of some description or another appeared in each of these three books – a trope which I have slowly grown weary of, but it was handled intelligently in each of the novels below and brought something fresh to the subgenre. However, what I found far more interesting were the obvious differences in approach to investigating a crime, reporting on it and even finding a resolution in the three countries and societies described here. [My own translations unless otherwise marked.]

klausvaterKlaus Vater: Am Abgrund – Berlin 1934

The serial killers here are in power. Berlin after Hitler’s rise to power, during a murky period of German history, when the SS and the SA (both Nazi supporters) are fighting for power between themselves, and the police is losing authority daily and its right pursue criminals according to legislation. During the construction of a tunnel for the S-Bahn in Berlin, an explosion kills several of the construction workers. A ‘non-aryan’ carpenter Leiblein is accused of provoking the explosion and is arrested. Hermann Kappe is a Kommissar with a lot of heart and ethical principles, and he soon realises that Leiblein is being made a scapegoat for a matter which the various political factions would like to see buried. As the lines between right and wrong, truth and cover-up, become increasingly blurred, it becomes clear that the power of the fist (or weapons) triumph over the power of law. In fact, law itself is being subverted by a new political regime keen to rid itself of any opposition. Kappe has many moments when he fears for himself and his family. He learns to compromise, to find small loopholes in a society which is becoming ever more frightening and inhuman. No happy outcome is possible, only temporary relief and terrifying uncertainty.

Without looking at them, [Kappe’s boss] told them: ‘According to a report from the Reich’s Ministry of Transport, Director Dr. Erich Klausener shot himself in his office earlier today. There is no police confirmation of this. The news came to us via the security services… It’s hard for me to believe them. Gentlemen, it’s clear to me that there is an entirely different tune being played here. The Führer is clearing out anyone who stands in his way: Klausener, von Schlicher and his wife, … and many more. I don’t know what to do anymore.

They waited for him to say something more. But he didn’t. Then he told them: ‘You can go now.’

sixfourHideo Yokoyama: Six Four (translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies)

In Japan, the police seems to be as much of an administrative morass as the great corporates. Officers are rotated between departments every few years, and Superintendent Yoshinobu Mikami finds himself moved from Criminal Investigations (specifically: murder) to Press Director in the Administrative Affairs department. Even worse, when he tries to create a more collaborative relationship with journalists, his efforts are thwarted by his superiors and decisions about what to reveal and what to hide are made above his head for reasons which are not even explained to him. The amount of political manoeuvring and the social nuances which need to be taken into account make the Japanese police force seem labyrinthine in comparison to its Western counterparts. Everything seems to be about preserving the reputation of the police and getting promoted.

Captain Tsujiuchi is on his ‘tour of duty’ from Tokyo in the prefectural HQ where Mikami works, but he has no real power. He isolates himself in his office and is kept far from any real problems by Mikami’s fellow officers.

The Prefecture D Police had been diligent in their cultivation of the man’s near-divine status. They reported favourable information and insulated him from everything that wasn’t good news. They devoted themselves to ensuring that his time in the Prefectural HQ was spent in comfort. He was kept free from germs, sheltered from the troubles and worries of the local police, treated instead like a guest at a spa, and when he returned to Tokyo it would be with pockets full of expensive gifts from local companies. I enjoyed my time here, surrounded by the warmth of the local community and the officers serving it. They would feel relief as he recited the formulaic words during his departing speech, then, hardly leaving time for them to gather breath, they would begin to gather information on the personality and interests of the incoming captain.

tempsglacFred Vargas: Temps Glaciaires

And then we come to France, itself no stranger to the stranglehold of bureaucracy.  However, as in all countries with a Latin influence, rules are made to be broken or reinterpreted, and Comissaire Adamsberg pushes the boundaries of what is permissible more than most. At a certain point, he is in a rush to get to a certain place in the countryside and is pulled over by the traffic police. He tries to explain that it’s an emergency, but the two gendarmes (a different branch of the police than the detectives, and suffering a bit of a chip on their shoulder from being regarded as inferior) seem to take great pleasure in throwing the rule book at him:

‘I forgot to put my beacon on. I’ll come tomorrow and we’ll sort all that out…’
‘Ah, no, not tomorrow. First of all, because it’s Sunday, and secondly, because it will be too late.’
‘Too late for what?’
‘For testing your alcohol levels…’
‘I repeat: it was an emergency.’
‘Sorry, sir, your trajectory was a bit uncertain in the curves.’
‘I was just driving fast, that’s all. Emergency, how many more times do I need to say it?’
‘Blow here, Commissaire.’

In this book, Adamsberg relies so much on his legendary intuition and continues to pursue a line of enquiry regarded as tenuous by Danglard and some others in his team, that he is almost faced with a mutiny. When he insists on going to Iceland to pursue some leads, his team is divided between those sceptical but loyal to their boss, and those who openly disagree with him. Yet Adamsberg does not pull rank on them and punish the disbelievers: his is a democratic approach, even when he is at the receiving end of distrust. He can even forgive serious mistakes, as one team member discloses rather more than they should have to a suspect. But he does make sure that they realise their mistake and never repeat them.

I have to remind you all that no private information about any of our team members should be given out to a stranger. Not even if he has gone for a piss or to feed the cat. Not even if the stranger is sympathetic, cooperative or frightened.

So there we have it: three very different approaches to policing, one of them is set in a historical context, three insights into different cultures. The world of Scandinavian, British and American policing, which we are all so familiar with, suddenly seems very much easier, doesn’t it?

 

 

Friday Fun: Maisons, Maisons, Mansions

In other words, still more inspirational houses that once belonged to writers and artists in France. Most of them have been turned into museums, although the last one has had an interesting fate.

Alexandra David Neel, who introduced Tibetan Buddhism to France, lived and practised here. From dignes-les-bains.fr
Alexandra David Neel, who introduced Tibetan Buddhism to France, lived and practised here. From dignes-les-bains.fr
Anatole France is not widely read nowadays, but was a Nobel prize winner back in the 1920s. From stcyr-hommes-et-patrimoine.fr
Anatole France is not widely read nowadays, but was a Nobel prize winner back in the 1920s. From stcyr-hommes-et-patrimoine.fr
Picasso's last house on the Cote d'Azure. From nicematin.com
Picasso’s last house on the Cote d’Azure. From nicematin.com
Renoir's home in the south of France. From cagnes-tourisme.com
Renoir’s home in the south of France. From cagnes-tourisme.com
And how can one ever forget Monet's house and garden? From cape-tourisme.fr
And how can one ever forget Monet’s house and garden? From cape-tourisme.fr

Just in case you are thinking that these are all too good to be true (certainly without a talented gardener or two), below is a sad story of aspirations and loss.

The house that Francoise Sagan won and lost. From demain-ma-maison.com
The house that Franoise Sagan won and lost. From demain-ma-maison.com

The Manoir du Breuil near Calvados in Normandy belonged to Lucien Guitry, actor and father of the slightly more famous Sascha Guitry. Whenever Françoise Sagan spent the summer at Deauville in Normandy, she would look covetously at this house perched on a hill and occasionally be able to rent it for a few weeks. Then, one night in August 1958, she won a huge sum at roulette and the very next day she purchased this property.

Unfortunately, there was no happy ending. The house required major renovation works, particularly after it was damaged by fire, but Sagan was a compulsive gambler, buyer of fancy sports cars, drinker and drug addict, so there was never enough money left over. A huge backdated tax bill was the final nail in the coffin. She was forced to sell the house, although the generous friend who bought it allowed her to continue living in part of it until her death. The house has now been completely remodelled by the current owner, the CEO of Eurotunnel.

Friday Fun: More Writers’ Homes in France

Seems like I can never get enough of houses in France, especially those which belong to writers and artists. I’m ranking them in order of luxury. Some of them appear to have come from moneyed backgrounds, others seem to have made a fortune from their work… or perhaps houses were much cheaper back then. Here’s to hoping!

Colette's birthplace, the house of Sido. From maisondecolette.fr
Colette’s birthplace, the house of Sido. From maisondecolette.fr
Alain-Fournier lived here, from berryprovince.com
Alain-Fournier lived here, from berryprovince.com
I'm guessing Rabelais didn't live here during his period as a monk. From laparafe.fr
I’m guessing Rabelais didn’t live here during his period as a monk. From laparafe.fr
Painter Gustave Courbet's birthplace, now a museum in the picture-pretty village of Ornans. From museefrance.fr
Painter Gustave Courbet’s birthplace, now a museum in the picture-pretty village of Ornans. From museefrance.fr
Poet Mallarme's house and garden. From jeanro.canalblog.com
Poet Mallarme’s house and garden. From jeanro.canalblog.com
Alphonse Daudet clearly didn't write about this house in his Lettres de mon moulin. From maison-alphonse-daudet.com
Alphonse Daudet clearly didn’t write about this house in his Lettres de mon moulin. From maison-alphonse-daudet.com
Clearly, if you are a politician as well as a writer, and inherit money from the Tsarina, like Chateaubriand did, your house is outstanding. From artslettres.ning.com
Naturally, if you are a politician as well as a writer, and inherit money from the Tsarina, like Chateaubriand did, your house is outstanding. From artslettres.ning.com

 

 

Friday Fun: Literary Villas in France

It’s been roughly a century since the French riviera and countryside were discovered by foreign writers. Here are a few of their villas and chateaux for your envious gazes…

Chateau de Charry, patrimoines. midipyrennes.fr
Chateau de Charry, patrimoines. midipyrennes.fr

After his separation from Angelica Bell, Bunny Garnett (former lover of Angelica’s father Duncan Grant) spent the rest of his days at this chateau in the south-west of France.

La Bergere, Cassis. Painting by Vanessa Bell.
La Bergere, Cassis. Painting by Vanessa Bell.

Vanessa and her family spent every summer in Cassis in the south of France. Virginia Woolf also visited them there.

Villa Mauresque, Cap Ferrat.
Villa Mauresque, Cap Ferrat.

Somerset Maugham lived in this spectacular villa near Cap Ferrat for over thirty years, until his death in 1965. It was remodelled and renovated for him by American architect Barry Dierks. Everyone who was anyone visited Maugham here: writers such as T.S. Eliot, Noel Coward, Ian Fleming but also political figures, including Winston Churchill. It is now a boutique hotel.

Vila Picolette, from curbed.com
Vila Picolette, from curbed.com

The villa where F. Scott Fitzgerald allegedly wrote ‘The Great Gatsby’ was up for sale in 2012. Although the Fitzgeralds moved in and out of several villas on the Mediterranean, the “price upon request” (read: an arm, a leg, and your first born) property in Cap d’Antibes boasts those delightful unnecessaries found in 19th-century homes: staff accommodations, pool terraces, a sauna, portholes, and “immaculate” gardens.

belles-rives-antibes

Above, the kind of hotel Rosemary might have stopped at on the French Riviera in the first part of Tender Is the Night.

And finally, this little treasure below. I could not establish any literary connections for it, but it’s in Provence near Avignon, it looks fabulous and it’s available for rent. When I have my next $9000 or so to throw away spend, I will stay a night or two there, invite all of you writer friends over and then it will have us as its literary connection!

Chateau Ventoux, from luxuryretreats.com
Chateau Ventoux, from luxuryretreats.com

Friday Fun: Converted Barns

Barn conversions are very popular not just in France, but all over the world. Here are some examples:

Farmhouse annexe in Switzerland.
Farmhouse annexe in Switzerland.
Typical Gessien barn, France.
Typical Gessien barn, France.
Traditional farmhouse in Ain, from Ain Tourisme.
Traditional farmhouse in Ain, from Ain Tourisme.
English barn, from Spirit Architecture.
English barn, from Spirit Architecture.
American barn with a modern twist, Pop Sugar.
American barn with a modern twist, Pop Sugar.
Traditional barn conversion, from The Telegraph.
Traditional barn conversion, from The Telegraph.
Renovated stables, from Le Bon Oeil.
Renovated stables, from Le Bon Oeil.

I can’t help hearing my grandmother’s voice, clucking somewhere above my shoulder: ‘Tsk, tsk, why would people want to live with cows and pigs?’

Cleaning the Palate with Two Unusual Books

lesignorantsÉtienne Davodeau: Les ignorants. Récit d’une initiation croisée

Davodeau is a French author/illustrator of BD, Richard Leroy is a small-scale producer of dry white chenin in the Anjou region of the Loire valley. The project is very simple: they spend a year together, learning from each other about vineyards, grapes, the soil, but also about books, writing and drawing, storytelling. Wise and witty words and illustrations ensue about the world of publishing and bandes dessinées, and a down-to-earth view of the wine-making world. We find a vivacious exchange of ideas (sometimes confrontational), two adorable strong-headed main characters and simple drawings that give you room to breathe and enjoy.

The 'real' Richard Leroy in his vineyards, from wineterroirs.com
The ‘real’ Richard Leroy in his vineyards, from wineterroirs.com

A complete surprise and a delightful book that left me with a long TBR list of graphic novels and an even longer list of wines to try! I also like the humble premise of ‘ignorance’ about each other’s profession, with both friends eager to learn from each other.

The book has been translated into English under the title ‘The Initiates’ by Joe Johnson, published by NBM Publishing.

Wendy Cope (ed.): The Funny Side

This is, as the editor explains, a very personal selection of 101 humorous poems – not funny poems, not light verse, no long essays about definitions, simply poems that have amused Wendy Cope at some point in her reading and writing life. Some of them are laugh-out-loud funny, some are more droll or curious. Some are very well-known indeed (such as the limerick ‘There was a young bard of Japan’ or Dorothy Parker’s summary of suicide methods), others are a pleasant new discovery. Finally, there is a third category, those that leave me with an ‘Oh, is that all?’ feeling of disappointment. But that’s fine, because we all find different things amusing.

funnypoemsMy personal favourites are (unsurprisingly perhaps) on gender themes or mocking the life of organisations: May Swenson on ‘The James Bond Movie’, Liz Lochhead’s ‘Men Talk’ and Simon Armitage’s ‘Very Simply Topping Up the Brake Fluid’ (anyone who’s been patronised at a garage will love that one) for the first, Julie O’Callaghan’s ‘Managing the Common Herd’, Hugo Williams’ Desk Duty’ and Gavin Ewart’s ‘The Meeting’ for the second.

But, for a taster, I’ll share two very different poems in their entirety. Facetious? Perhaps, but they brightened up my day.

Scintillate by Roger McGough
I have outlived
my youthfulness
so a quiet life for me

where once
I used to
scintillate

now I sin
till ten
past three.

Alma Denny: Mrs Hobson’s Choice

What shall a woman
Do with her ego,
Faced with the choice
That it go, or he go?

 

 

Friday Fun: Chateaux from the Haute-Savoie

I found a lovely book at the library about the castles of the Haute-Savoie area around Geneva, each with a photo, a brief description and its often troubled history. Here are a few favourites – maybe I need to start a To Be Seen pile to go with my To Be Read pile.

Château de Coudrée on Lake Geneva, From cgn.ch website.
Château de Coudrée on Lake Geneva, From cgn.ch website.

Château de Coudrée

Formerly accessible only by boat, this chateau was of strategic importance in the long-lasting battle for dominance in the area between the Duke of Savoy and the Counts of Geneva and Faucigny. It has a literary connection too. In the 18th century, the Italian poet and dramatist Vittorio Alfieri was a guest here, together with his mistress, the Duchess of Albany (wife of Bonnie Prince Charlie).

Chateau de Ripaille, from easy-thonon.com
Chateau de Ripaille, near Thonon, from easy-thonon.com

Chateau de Ripaille

The initial settlement here dates from the Bronze Age. Then, turn by turn, this spectacular natural setting became the site for a Roman villa, a medieval hunting pavilion, the preferred residence of the Dukes of Savoy, a priory, a battleground between the Bernese army and the Savoyard, a chartreuse monastery and the prize given to one of Napoleon’s general for years of faithful service.

Chateau de Thuset, near Thonon. From chateau-fort-manoir-chateau.fr website.
Chateau de Thuyset, near Thonon. From chateau-fort-manoir-chateau.eu website.

Chateau de Thuyset

Well hidden from the main road by the trees and parkland surrounding it, this fortified mansion dates from the 15th century and has been inhabited continuously by the same family, the de Foras, since 1688. It also houses a rich collection of heraldic documents.

Chateau de Thorens, from savoie-mont-blanc.com website.
Chateau de Thorens, from savoie-mont-blanc.com website.

Chateau de Thorens

Just to the north of Annecy lies this beautiful castle, which is sometimes mistaken with the Chateau de Sales (which belonged to the same family and was situated only a few hundred metres further). Sales was destroyed by Louis XIII in 1630, but this castle has remained in the possession of the Sales family (who boasts a number of bishops and even a Saint Francis of Sales within its ranks) ever since. It was actually considered a hotbed of intrigue, abuses and betrayal back in the 15th century, so it was seized from its original owners by the Duke of Savoy and given to the Prince of Luxembourg instead. The Sales family were vassals of the Luxembourgeois princes.

I hope this has given you a taste for the complicated and often bloody history of this region, plus a feel for its magnificent landscapes and architecture. Myself, I am surprised that quite a few chateaux still seem to be privately owned (all of the above except the first one, which is now a hotel/restaurant) – surely they cost a bomb to maintain! And they are not even all open to seasonal visitors to make ends meet, as many English palaces are.

As for me, well, you know I’d be content with a simple little gatehouse, such as this at Chateau de Nacqueville (not in my region, unfortunately):

From blog.theenduringgardener.com
From blog.theenduringgardener.com