By Brian Moore.
London: Dutton, 1996.
ISBN# 0-525-94128-2
250 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
April 2005

Pierre Brossard, 70 year old former French collaborator with the Nazis, is wanted for crimes against humanity, especially for the killing of 14 French Jews in Dombey, France in 1945.

In 1971 he had received a pardon for his work with the Nazis from the French government, but now, in 1989, the coming to light of his killing of the Dombey Jews qualifies as a crime against humanity and no pardon can protect him from prosecution assuming he were in captivity.

Brossard is a sleazy character. A hardened criminal, a hater of Jews, blacks, Muslims and nearly any non-French person. He longs for the France of his youth and for the old fashioned Catholicism of the pre-Vatican II Council church.

But some things just don’t add up. Indeed Brossard is a sleazy rather disgusting, pathetic, though dangerous criminal. However, he has strong supporters, protectors and financial backing in both the French political world and inside the Roman Catholic Church, especially among the radical conservatives of France. Moreover, some group of radical Jewish assassins are trying to kill him. More is going on than meets the eye.

Brian Moore skillfully sets these scenes, then slowly with marvelous suspense allows this setting’s logic to unravel itself. There are no great surprises, no high-tech or super hero goings on, just a plain old fashion, gripping thriller, one that left me reading faster than I like, bringing me up to the level of more hours a day in reading than I’d planned, something I always love.

I won’t detail any more of the central plot. Moore does that with skill and grace of writing which allows his tale to tumble out seemingly effortlessly, a story sounding like one told around the fire on a cold, rainy, winter night.

I do want to comment a bit on a few relatively minor sub-plots that fascinated me. Brossard’s crimes were big – deporting people to death in foreign concentration camps, torture and then the brutal and needless executing of the 14 Dombey Jews. But Brossard is not a “big” player. Ruthless, rabid anti-Semite, anti-Communist, (his main justification for working with the Nazis), a despiser of nearly everything not pre-war France and pre-Vatican II Catholicism. How is Moore to convey both his “smallness” – which enhances the mystery of the question: “What’s really going on here?” -- and emphases Brossard’s basic root evil. The unfolding plot does much of the former – too much doesn’t make sense for this being only about Brossard. But the stroke of genius on my view of Brossard, this character who embraces much of the ultra conservative Roman Catholicism, is his being obsessed with the forgiveness provided via the confessional, yet still not being able to muster the key ingredient of confession – remorse at his sin. This is done masterfully by author Moore.

The second theme I enjoyed so much in Moore’s novel was the case made by Brossard and all his major political and religious cronies is the defense of their war activities and later the hiding and supporting of Brossard. This defense hinges on two key issues;

Brian Moore handles these secondary issues with brilliance. On the one hand it is fairly clear that he, the author, stands far away from such views. They are given to corrupt politicians with lots to hide, and to ultra-conservative religious folks who wish the world would never have changed from pre-Vatican Two times.

On the other hand, not all these folks in either the political or religious world are seriously bad folks, but real people with sincere beliefs and they make the strongest case Moore can give them in defense of their positions.

I thought this was very well-done and made the book all that more fascinating.

The book was published in 1996 and set in 1989. The religious conservatives excoriated the “Pollack” pope, John Paul II for his destruction of even more of the church’s traditional ways than did John XXIII. But the irony is that in John Paul II’s last years (after Moore published his novel) John Paul II was making the strongest version of their own argument calling for the recognition of a radical difference between a secular and religious view of the world, and calling for a stern backing away from “the secular world.” And even now emerges Benedict XVI who seems would be more to the liking of these ultra conservatives than anyone since the Pius XII of his WWII days.

I’d be curious to know how Brian Moore himself would view these relatively new developments which mainly occurred after the publication of THE STATEMENT.

Bob Corbett

Becoming Reading Thinking Journals


Bob Corbett