This is the second novel in Allan Massie’s projected trilogy set in Bordeaux during the 2nd World War. It is the summer of 1940 and once again there is a murder to solve for Superintendent Jean Lannes and his team. However this is not in any sense a crime novel. Like the first novel, Death in Bordeaux, Massie uses the format of a murder mystery to explore the dark sides of living under occupation. For Bordeaux is part of the Occupied Zone and under German rule. While resistance to occupation is generally regarded as the right and good thing to do, it was rarely an easy or simple choice for the people living under occupation. In trying work out who is the culprit Lannes is drawn into the shadier, less reputable and often hidden layers of Bordeaux society. He also has some more personal issues to deal with. His elder son supports the Vichy government and wants to work for them in Vichy itself, while his younger son wants to escape from Bordeaux and join De Gaulle in London. Massie is very good at conveying and bringing to life in a sympathetic way the conflicting loyalties and emotions which affect people living under occupation. While some of the characters are out and out fascists and jew haters, most are not so easily categorized. Lannes himself has to face some terrible choices. To what extent can he continue to work as an honourable policeman when subjected to interfering and possibly illegal demands from the German occupiers and those with high level political connections. Dark times indeed.
The one caution I would make about this book is that though it can be read as a stand alone novel, it is very closely intertwined with the previous novel. Most of the key characters all continue from that novel as does much of the plot. I have read the first novel, but over a year ago and even with this benefit I found it hard at times to remember all that had happened in that book. I would definitely recommend reading the the first novel before embarking on Dark Summer.