Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Book review

The Officer's Prey (isbn 1906040036) is a fictional account of a murder committed by a French officer during the 1812 Russian Campaign and the attempt to track him down and bring him to justice.

Capitaine Quentin Margont has been given the task by Prince Eugene de Beauharnais, his corp commander and stepson of Napoleon himself, of tracking down the murderer. This, of course, is easier said than done, because it all has to be done unofficially. As the initial murder victim is female and Polish, the reason for the urgency and secrecy is supposedly diplomatic, in order that the relationship with Poland is not damaged, but soon other, murkier political factors reveal themselves. Of the 4 possible suspects, none puts a foot wrong until the final, horrific retreat from Moscow.

In the meantime, Margont and his companions are still cogs in a massive war machine and cannot avoid being swept up in the battles of the campaign. This is where the book rises above any other historical murder mystery, in my opinion. The descriptions of the fighting, especially at Smolensk, come from the point of view of the infantry. They don't know of anything beyond what they can see, hear and feel. None of the grand tactics and maneuvers of the generals mean anything here. They see Russians in front of them, they fire at and charge the Russians. The pursuit ends in rout, once confronted by Russian reserves. Their rout ends when French reserves counterattack. The feelings of foreboding, followed by elation, quickly followed by terror, then utter emptiness and revulsion are all well described by the author, who also is a psychiatrist and well able to get inside his characters' heads.

There are two other books in the series, The Wolf Hunt (isbn 1906040087) and Memory of Flames (isbn 1906040133), the first a prequel set in the Danube campaign of 1809 and the second set in the last days of the Empire in 1814.

I'm looking forward to reading them both.

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