Wednesday, March 28, 2012
A Good Death: Review
Judging by the two books by Elizabeth Ironside that I have read so far, she is a very versatile author. The first one I read (last year), Death in the Garden, was a country house murder with a bit of twist. This most current novel, A Good Death, is a less than straight-forward murder mystery set during the time of the French Resistance under Nazi rule. In both stories one of the most striking features is the sense of place and time that Ironside evokes. One feels very much what it was like to be on home front in war-torn France. How very difficult it was to navigate the territory between resisting the enemy and doing whatever necessary to save your friends, your family, your neighbors. And a major theme in Ironside's books seems to be betrayal--what constitutes betrayal and who is betraying whom?
Colonel Theo Cazalle returns to his family home in Bonnemort, France in 1944. He had left in 1940, faking his death so he could join the Free French in an effort to help end the war and bring peace to his divided country. The estate is deep in the countryside and memories of Bonnemort and his wife Ariane have carried him through the long four years of secret fighting. Now the enemy is being slowly driven from his homeland and he returns to find everything he knew changed and his dreams are shattered.
In his absence, his very home had been invaded by a Nazi officer and his men. The Nazis have since abandoned his estate, but they left a trail of terror and destruction in their wake. A family servant has been shot, several villagers have been hung, his wife has been denounced as a collaborator, his daughter is beaten, and the Nazi officer has been left naked and dead at the front gate of the Bonnemort estate. Theo finds that if he is to restore order to his world he must somehow find out what happened while he was gone. Is his wife a murderer? Did she become the mistress of the officer? Did she betray the resistance fighters? Or were there others who betrayed not only their compatriots but his wife as well? And what role has his daughter and the young girl his wife has sheltered during the occupation played in this drama?
As with the previous book, Ironside moves between time periods in this historical novel. The time jumps aren't quite as great in A Good Death--but they are just as important. We are given Theo's viewpoint "now" (1944) and then as he interviews various participants we are given the stories of the previous years as if they were happening as they are being told. It is a very interesting narrative technique and Ironside manages it very well. It is also interesting to be given so many versions of "what really happened." As is always the case, each character has their own version of the truth--slanted by their own fears and prejudices. In the end, when we finally discover what really happened to the German officer, we're still not sure that we've been given the entire truth.
A very compelling historical read. It's not a straight-up mystery--so purists may not enjoy it quite so much. It is also a bit darker than Death in the Garden, so I can't really say that it is a fun and enjoyable book. But is a good book. Four stars.