I’ve been doing a good job of ignoring prize lists this year, and I heard of Manda Scott’s latest only after it had won the 2019 McIllvanney Prize. It was the title and the definitions of treachery on the back cover that did it; all that nefarious promise proving irresistible.
And goodness – how it delivered! I’m not going to argue with the prize judges on this one.
I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoilers but here is the premise.
A 92-year old woman is found dead in her car. She has been executed in the manner reserved for those who betrayed the French Resistance during WWII. Her name is Sophie Destivelle, and once upon a time she was a resistance fighter.
As Captain Ines Picaut’s investigation begins to focus on a documentary about the resistance cell to which Sophie belonged, the layers of history are peeled back in a second narrative set towards the end of the war. In this the crimes, betrayals and treachery that are now coming home to roost are perpetrated. Scott’s handling of both historical and contemporary threads is deft. The historical portrayal of life, the dangers and cruelties of the occupation is breathtaking; the police investigation complex. After all, how do you join dots that span decades, when the surviving witnesses are being taken out one by one?
In addition, there a message about the repercussions of those past events on today’s society. A message in plain sight though not mixed with a heavy hand ….
I’m not in the habit of beginning a series at book 2, and that’s because I didn’t realise it was book 2. But once started, I wasn’t going to stop. It didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the book. References to Book 1 were few and far between, but sufficient for me to know that Picaut had suffered something traumatic, and that she had managed to put herself back together again. I liked the lack of continual bleating (Louise Boni take note) and I am curious enough to go back and read Book 1.
While I’m at it, I’ll add Manda Scott’s Boudica quartet to the wishlist as well.
And there we have it, a great read but not at all helpful in reducing the TBR ….