As is so often the case these days, a fellow blogger’s enthusiastic recommendation prompted me to seek out this book and, as is also often the case, I was not disappointed. I hadn’t planned to read a book which takes place during a very hot spell during my own city’s second extreme heat wave of the year (so far) but that’s the way things turned out and though I was a little jealous of the main character’s ability to dive into his backyard pool when the going go hot, I wasn’t otherwise bothered by the book’s many references to being hot.
This delightfully named book is set in and around Perpignan, France which is close to the Spanish border. It opens with several short chapters, each describing seemingly unconnected events: the discovery of a young woman’s body in a caravan park; the apparent disappearance of a local taxi driver and a passage which indicates a woman is being held somewhere against her will. In a roundabout (French?) kind of way these incidents are, eventually, dealt with by the Perpignan police as represented by Gilles Sebag and his colleagues.
The book takes an admittedly languorous journey to its end point but I was captivated from the outset and enjoyed the meaningless but somehow intriguing side journeys into local smuggling rackets and the like as much as the main story itself. Although seasoned crime fiction readers would expect the disparate elements that open the book to eventually coalesce, this doesn’t happen in the way you might think and there is always something to guess about.
But the story, good as it is, is in some ways the book’s weakest feature when compared to its setting and character development.
I defy any reader not to start wistfully googling images of southern France at some point in their reading. This sense of place is achieved in a variety of ways including the wonderful descriptions of the town and surrounds and the food (though the tomato salad-heavy diet doesn’t quite match the bounty of Inspector Montalbano’s Sicily) but it’s also in the attitude and behaviour of the characters. I know I have often railed against the constraining nature of genre labelling and other categorisations for writing but I have to admit that I do I often think of there being two kinds of crime fiction, or at least two kinds of police procedural: American and everything else. There are lots of complex reasons why there’s a distinction in my head but one of the strongest is the different attitude that tends to be displayed towards guns and SUMMERTIME, ALL THE CATS ARE BORED offers a great example of this. Whereas in most American procedurals cops usually have a backup gun strapped to their ankles as well as the weapon they’ve been officially issued, Gilles Sebag is so loathe to carry his weapon that he keeps it locked in a drawer and even when he’s on his way to confront a bad guy he muses that his colleagues will probably all have theirs so he needn’t bother. This is not the only particularly French – or European – attitude that sets the book apart from traditional American and English crime novels for me but it’s all I plan to share here.
Though we do learn something of his immediate boss and his partner of four years, Jacques Molina, it is Gilles Sebag who is the most well-defined character in the book and he does intrigue. He is atypical of crime fiction sleuths partly because he is married with very strong family values (so strong his career has been compromised) and more addicted to long distance running than the alcohol many of his fictional brethren are chained to. But perhaps more oddly he is not a workaholic. I found this depiction, which takes the entire book to really be teased out, to be rather interesting and in the end very credible as Gilles’ attitude is basically quite ‘normal’ in that he’d rather not have to work for a living and he’s not going to let his job rule his life but most of the time when he’s at work he’ll do his job as well as he can.
SUMMERTIME, ALL THE CATS ARE BORED is an enchanting novel that offers a little something for most kinds of readers (though I really don’t see it fitting comfortably into the noir label my copy’s front cover is plastered with). Georget, ably assisted by Steven Rendall’s invisible translation, has managed to stretch the constraints of the procedural to offer something genuinely original and thoroughly engaging. I hope like hell there’s a follow-up on its way.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator Steven Rendall
Publisher Europa [this translation 2013, original edition 2009]
Length 429 pages
Book Series standalone or the first in a series?
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