What Are the Bugles Blowing For? by Nicolas Freeling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Another surprise - while I found my previous book by Nicolas Freeling ("Dressing of Diamond", reviewed here ) surprisingly weak for this phenomenally accomplished writer, this one, "The Bugles Blowing", although I like it much better, is just unremarkable. Well, Mr. Freeling's literary output totals 42 books, so it is natural that in addition to several masterpieces, it contains average and weaker items as well.
This is the second book in the Castang series. Castang, an inspector of the Police Judiciaire in a provincial French town, receives a phone call from Monsieur La Touche, as an Inspector of Finance a highly placed personage, who tells Castang that he has just killed several people: "My wife. My daughter. A man." Indeed, the inspector finds naked corpses of the three victims, stopped by bullets in the course of a sexual act.
Throughout Castang's investigation, M. La Touche insists on his guilt, and the police are trying to make sure there are no political undercurrents in the case. The male victim is Jewish, and the pro-Arab organizations are concerned about the case. The most interesting aspect of the book is the exposition of the French criminal law and how it is different from the Anglo-Saxon law process (the inquisitorial system vs. the adversarial system). The case is first considered by a Judge of Instruction (also known as the examining magistrate; what a vivid portrayal of Judge Szymanowski!), and when the "instruction" ends, the case goes - through the Chambre d'Accusation - to the Assize Court, where the actual trial takes place. The presentation of the trial is so refreshingly different than the tired, formulaic depictions found in the courtroom dramas of John Grisham, Scott Turow, or Steve Martini.
One of my favorite fragments is the sharp and scathing characterization of high-rank police and judicial functionaries and their often base motives. I have also been happy to find a short passage where Mr. Freeling utilizes the trademark stream-of-consciousness narration, so successfully used in his later novels. I still have 25 "Freelings" to read and - going chronologically - I hope the writing will get better and better.
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