Not As Far As Velma by Nicolas Freeling
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
In Raymond Chandler's famous "Farewell My Lovely" Philip Marlowe is searching for Velma Valento; Chandler's phrase - "You could see a long way, but not as far as Velma has gone" - serves as one of the epigraphs in the Nicolas Freeling's book. "Not As Far As Velma" (1989), the eleventh novel in Henri Castang series, has a wonderful and apt title, yet in most other ways I find it a big disappointment. My two-star rating might have even been lower if not for the tremendous ending, which partially redeems this mess of a book (I would have never expected that I could use such a phrase referring to a Freeling's novel).
A painter living in Paris, Monsieur Marklake, an elderly Auschwitz survivor, is visited by functionaries of Police Judiciaire who tell him that he had been the last guest to sign the register in a hotel whose owner has disappeared. While M. Marklake is positive he has never stayed there, he is curious and visits the town where the hotel is located. He meets Commissaire Castang who is responsible for the investigation of the hotel owner's disappearance. This is just the starting point of the plot, which involves Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the Contras, the French National Front, the bombing of a convent, the briefcase full of money, the Catholic bishop with leftist leanings, the Basque nationalist movement, and memories of horrors from Auschwitz.
With the crowded plot reminiscent of ridiculously implausible political thrillers, Mr. Freeling's excellent writing helps, but even his prose is less dazzling than usual. The novel badly lacks cohesion and focus, and several overlong conversations between the major characters will tax the reader's patience. The stunning ending is truly memorable, yet "Not As Far As Velma" should be avoided as an introduction to Nicolas Freeling's opus. People who read it as their first book by Mr. Freeling may find it the last.
View all my reviews