The Unwanted Dead  by Chris Lloyd: Steeped in atmosphere, tingling with tension, and liberally sprinkled with a dark brand of humour - book review -

On the day the Nazis march into Paris with their bands, tanks and swastika flags, French police inspector and Great War veteran Eddie Giral has other things on his mind.

Wednesday, 23rd September 2020, 12:30 pm
The Unwanted Dead
The Unwanted Dead

On the day the Nazis march into Paris with their bands, tanks and swastika flags, French police inspector and Great War veteran Eddie Giral has other things on his mind.

Four men no one knew have been cruelly gassed to death in a railway yard, and another man deliberately stepped off a city balcony with his young son clutched to his chest. Finding out what happened to these unwanted, unclaimed dead is what matters most to Eddie on the first real morning of his ‘new war.’

If you like your crime thrillers to come steeped in atmosphere, tingling with tension, and liberally sprinkled with a dark brand of humour, then head off to wartime Paris and a city adjusting to the early days of Occupation in the first book of Chris Lloyd’s powerful and gripping wartime series.

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Treading a fine line between collaboration and resistance in this complex, perilous new order is the star of the show… the maverick but consummately professional, determined but volatile detective Eddie Giral whose brutal, haunting years in the trenches of Flanders have left him guilt-ridden, mentally damaged and only ever one bullet away from ending his own life.

Working against a tantalising backdrop full of suspicion, menace and danger, and with the complex dynamics of operating in tandem with the arrogant, newly installed Nazi conquerors of Paris, the restless, relentless and principled Eddie promises to be one of the most fascinating and original new detectives in crime fiction.

And this first outing sets the scene perfectly as we join Eddie watching helplessly on Friday June 14 1940 as the Nazis march into Paris and his world changes forever. Two-thirds of the population have fled and only the old, the poor and the cops remain. ‘Paris was still there, but it was no longer Paris.’

However, there is something Eddie still has control over and that is finding out who is responsible for the murder of four Polish refugees who have been found gassed in a railway truck in a yard south of the Gare d’Austerlitz.

It’s an emotive discovery for veteran Eddie as the men had been deliberately poisoned with what appears to be an old wartime chlorine gas canister, bringing back painful memories of his time in the trenches and all the guilt, horror and despair that he has never been able to shake off.

The only clue to the victims is a tailor’s label, revealing that one of the men’s clothing had been made in Bydgoszcz, a city in northern Poland. It appears that they had been trying to get out of Paris but someone had been determined to stop them.

And when another Polish refugee, also with links to Bydgoszcz, kills himself with his son in his arms on that same day, Eddie feels it is his duty to find justice for them all.

Under new orders to liaise with Major Hochstetter from German military intelligence, a man ‘too young for the old war, too eager for the new one,’ Eddie is unsure about how far he can trust the urbane but supercilious Nazi officer.

This war is ‘opening up too many old wounds’ for Eddie but he must adapt if he is to survive in this terrible new order. And that means trading carefully between co-operation and resistance, between truth and lies, between the man he is and the man he was…

Lloyd, who confesses to a lifelong interest in the dynamics of Occupied France, creates a breathtaking landscape full of the menace, confusion, fear and chaos that engulfed Paris in the first weeks after the arrival of German troops.

Blending fact and fiction with superb precision, immaculate research and thrilling authenticity, this is an enthralling story that sweeps readers into the bars, clubs, grimy back streets and iconic landmarks of a city still coming to terms with the domestic realities and precarious politics of military occupation.

Forced to work alongside the enigmatic Major Hochstetter, Eddie’s investigation is a constant game of second guessing whether the seemingly charming and smoothly patrician Nazi is a vaguely sympathetic friend or a covert and deadly enemy.

From the dramatic opener as the Wehrmacht bands honk up and down an eerily deserted Champs-Élysées right through to the ingenious, final showdown, The Unwanted Dead is a brilliant piece of crime writing… and spending time with Eddie Giral promises to be a memorable reading experience.

(Orion, hardback, £16.99)