SUMMERTIME, ALL THE CATS ARE BORED
By Philippe Georget
Europa Editions, reprint July, 2013 ($17.00)
Reviewed by Sam Waas
Resort cites have a certain ease about their police force, mirroring the community ethos, not focusing so much upon crimefighting as with maintaining the status quo.
Gilles Sebag is a police inspector in the mid-size city of Perpignan on the French southern Mediterranean coast, near Spain. Gilles is an experienced and intelligent officer, well liked and competent in his work, nearing retirement, his principal concerns mostly personal, his own ennui, boredom, and growing realization that he's no longer the young, energetic man whom he used to see in the mirror.
In SUMMERTIME, ALL THE CATS ARE BORED, Gilles Sebag's most pressing case of late has been nabbing smugglers who routinely bring cases of cigarettes across the border with Spain and thereby cheat on the higher French tax. Not exactly the crime of the century.
Then a young Dutch woman, a summer tourist, is found brutally murdered, and another Dutch woman has disappeared. Is some serial killer or rapist targeting specific ethnic groups? Sebag and his team work the case but uncover few clues at first. Nevertheless the police continue to hunt for the murderer.
At the same time, Sebag finds himself suddenly lonely. Both children grown and away for the summer, his wife possibly having an affair, he having no real friends with whom to socialize. He begins to drink more, neglect his own well being, and obsess about his sadly unrealized life.
Such self-doubt is common fare for mystery novels, particularly newer ones that rely on noir elements. In SUMMERTIME, however, author Philippe Georget does not fixate on this theme and employs a lighter touch. His protagonist does not become overly maudlin and the story is therefore not weighed down. Gilles Sebag is instead drawn as an engaging and interesting primary character, a candid portrait of an unfulfilled man reaching his middle years.
The city of Perpignan is also depicted with a smooth touch. Georget does not, as some writers do, layer the narrative with excessive geographic detail, where every street and building is named and described in a mind-numbing trivia contest with no winners.
The result of avoiding a heavy-handed approach for both protagonist and setting is an entertaining, well-paced mystery, conventional but nonetheless pleasing.
SUMMERTIME does have a few faults. The narrative is muddied slightly by the overuse of past perfect instead of simple past tense. For example, "Sebag had decided" versus "Sebag decided." Past perfect is mostly relegated to highly formal prose these days, and finding it prevalent in crime fiction renders the narrative a little ponderous. The book is also too long. Background narrative is rather extensive and the reader sometimes wishes that we could get on with the story. Such excessive length calls for an editor's touch in some spots. But this is the author's first novel and it's a fine beginning upon which I'm certain he will improve. And finally, there's that most common of gun mistakes, a revolver with a safety.
These small negative issues do not make the novel less readable to any great degree. SUMMERTIME, ALL THE CATS ARE BORED is recommended for a good, well, summertime read.
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