Castang's City by Nicolas Freeling
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Continuing the Nicolas Freeling's Complete Opus Undertaking I have just finished "Castang's City" (1980), the fifth book in the French detective series. Alas, it is not a very good crime novel, despite some flashes of brilliance shown by the author. Thus the less I write here the better.
An adjunct mayor in a largish French city (the "Castang's city" - in the Foreword the author warns that it is a fictitious city, not Toulouse or Strasbourg as some readers claim) is gunned down in his Porsche. The connections with terrorism are quickly dismissed and Castang and his colleagues focus on the politician's family.
As usual in Freeling's novels, we have vivid portrayals of the characters, and dialogues are masterfully captured. Yet, the events in the plot are not that interesting; what's more, the rather lightweight story does not justify the volume of the novel, over 300 pages; it is much more than the typical size of Mr. Freeling's work, and it has taxed my patience.
There are some fascinating passages in the book that remind us that the author is one of the very best crime novel writers ever, but they are scarce. I would love to quote one incomparably bravura paragraph but not only does it hint at the denouement but also its language might be perceived as risqué. Read and enjoy for yourself (page 282 of the paperback edition by Vintage Books). On a somber note, the novel contains a moving tribute to one of the greatest poets-singers of the Twentieth century: Castang and his wife, Vera, are stunned by the news of his death on October 9, 1978.
Two and a half stars.
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