By Phillippe Tapon
186 pages
New York: Plume Books, 1999.
ISBN # 0-0452-28058-3

Comments of Bob Corbett
November 2002

The basic story is suspenseful, but weak. It is 1944 in Paris shortly before its liberation by the Allies. Dr. Emile Bastion is living well during the German occupation, treating Nazi officers for gold and Parisians for food.

He lives with his mistress Simone Givry and his two children Paulette and Rene. Emile’s wife, Marie, lives at her ancestral home in southern “free” France.

Eventually, at liberation, Emile is arrested and executed as a collaborator. What mystery and suspense as does attach itself to the plot centers around gold – the family inheritance of Marie, which Emile has stolen and secreted in Paris.

The story is mysterious and suspenseful only because author Phillippe Tapon withholds any data with hints or clues yet allows us to understand that the hidden gold is at the center of this tale. All in all the plot line is quite a disappointment – thin as drama and weak in execution.

Nonetheless the novel is a good read. Tapon is able to create a credible sense of life lived in occupied Paris, the struggle for survival, the opportunities for gain and greed, the price to be paid for collaboration in the irrational and angry aftermath of liberation.

Tapon does make clear the radical division of society into the haves and have nots, and a sense of the living tone, especially for the well-off family of Emile Bastien.

A curious note, and perhaps the novel’s most glaring weakness is the sadistic device that leads Bastien to be able to command such prices from his patients. He has invented an electrical shock metal plate which is used to stimulate the stomach to fight its own ailments. This has all the trappings of torture and the occult, a bizarre and unnecessary device.

Second only to the stomach plate as a failed narration device is that the story is supposedly told by Emile’s grandson, Rene’s son. This detail is introduced in the earliest few pages and never alluded to again. Yet the narrator is actually a timeless, all-seeing narrator, not situated in the “family” in any way. This silly device could have been edited out with the elimination of about three sentences!

Despites these weakness, the convincing details of the everyday life of this family in Paris in 1944 is worth the other aggravating features of the novel.

Bob Corbett

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Bob Corbett