Friday, May 16, 2008


Over at Patti Abbott's pattinasse there is a series on forgotten books every Friday.

With my convoluted thought processes bumbling into action I remembered a complete series of forgotten books, several of which I read a very long time ago, set in occupied France during the Second World War.

This J. Robert Janes series featured Surete detective Jean Louis St-Cyr and former Munich policeman Hermann Kohler and was very strong on the wartime atmosphere of distrust and barely concealed hatred between the various authorities during the Occupation.

The detectives have to solve murders while under constant surveillance by the SS Secret police, Wehrmacht, Gestapo, collaborators in the French police system and Resistance fighters.

The De Luca Trilogy set in Italy during and just after the collapse of Mussolini's Republic of Salo had a similar theme of who to trust in the constantly shifting quicksands of occupation and liberation.

The BBC drama series Secret Army about a Belgian resistance movement broadcast between 1977-1979 covered the theme of the struggle between occupier and occupied in a thoughtful and serious manner. I am afraid I could not watch the ludicrous parody that was later made of this excellent series, entitled Allo Allo.

I have not read the highly praised Matt Beynon Rees Omar Yussef Mystery series set in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza, but it is on my to be purchased list.

I shall be interested to see how the author deals with the sensitive subject of politics and murder in such a lawless land.

The two books so far published in the series have very different titles in the UK and USA, which is fairly significant of the difference in attitudes between the two countries to this controversial situation.

The American, The Collaborator of Bethlehem and A Grave in Gaza by Matt Beynon Rees, become for British readers The Bethlehem Murders and The Saladin Murders by Matt Rees?

I found it interesting when in Donna Leon's The Girl of His Dreams Count Orazio Falier, Guido Brunetti's father in law, goes on a trip the "occupied territories". Count Falier has taken to calling Sicily and Calabria by that evocative name because they are beyond government control and occupied by organised crime factions.

What other 'occupied territories' feature in crime fiction?

I first thought of Eliot Pattison's series featuring a former investigator for the Chinese government, Shan Tao Yun, in Tibet. It has taken the Beijing Olympics to bring this long standing occupation to Western sensibilities.

And then I recollected our neighbour about twenty years ago speaking about the 'occupied territories'. She was not a Palestinian or a Tibetan, but from the vast former German territories in the east now part of Poland.

That reminded me of the Eberhard Mock Quartet witten by Polish writer Marek Krajewski, a crime series with a difference, flowing back and forth in time and set in the Silesian German city of Breslau, which became after the Second World War the Polish city of Wroclaw.

What a wonderful educational facility we have with the varied library of crime fiction available today; it is all there entangled in the story, history, politics, sociology, religion and geography. And usually they are more fun to read than dry non fiction books?


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