The Bigger Picture

That said, Sebag has distinctive quirks and habits, per the conventions of a crime novel hero. That should have been an opportunity for them to get re-acquainted […] [t]o imagine and prepare for a future for two people and no longer for four.” But Claire, who is a teacher, has decided to spend her school holiday on a cruise. You can hurtle through one new investigation after another, all the while keeping company with the same characters and their maturing (or devolving) relationships with one another. Like the light of a star that manages to reach us many years after it has died. It formed in 1961 in response to the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale), an independence group that began in 1954. The second, Autumn, All the Cats Return, is a less intimate but more substantial examination of displacement and the fickle verdicts of history. In his efforts to assure himself that their marriage could survive a betrayal, he considers the freedom Claire’s potential infidelity would grant him, and he even tries to convince himself that “[s]he could allow herself a sexual parenthesis, after all, so long as she continued to love him.”
As for the crimes involving the Dutch women, while they occupy more real estate on the page, they feel secondary to the novel because they are secondary to Gilles. This unknown person has a deliberate plan for the crimes he or she is committing. He searches for answers among the local Pied-Noirs — French nationals born and raised in Algeria. And how many wounded hearts were there among the survivors? Her walk was aerial. K. Claire is an enigmatic, independent woman, and her choice is not out of character, but Sebag catches her in a lie, and then, during the course of his investigation, he makes a discovery that plunges him into the dangerous marital terrain of “what if?” He is engulfed in doubt, and every possible scenario takes shape in his head. There is a touching passage in the first book when Sebag discovers a small, unfamiliar bra in the laundry. In the first two books, this works well. In each of the Sebag books, Georget has a signature: a criminal on a mission. When he ogles a woman or has a wolfish thought, it feels out of character, unlike when he thinks about his wife: “Claire came toward him. But when he joked like that, the last embers of his childhood still burned in his eyes. What I require is a writer working with purpose and a main character worth knowing:
A heavy melancholy was numbing [Sebag’s] body and his mind. Especially enjoyable is coming upon a crime writer deep into a series. Why has such an old grudge surfaced now, and why is it being settled so viciously? It’s up to Sebag and his colleagues on the local police force to figure out if the three situations are connected, and if they are — how? It has its own purpose, and Sebag’s personal issues sit on the backburner throughout the book. But because the FLN won, at the same time that self-determination was becoming the moral rule for countries casting off colonialism around the world, OAS members vanished into the background in Europe and South America to avoid punishment for their terrorist acts. The balance shifts again in Crimes of Winter, though, when thoughts of adultery consume Gilles, and spousal treacheries also turn out to be the motive behind each and every crime he is charged with investigating. At the same time, Crimes of Winter is the most ambitious thematically. Inspector Gilles Sebag, the main character, remains consistent, as does the police procedural approach to the plots. The third, Crimes of Winter, takes a more extreme turn as it delves into the subjective implications of jealousy, loyalty, and love; its subtitle says it all: “Variations on Adultery and Venial Sins.”
In Summertime, All the Cats are Bored, a Dutch woman is murdered, another Dutch woman is missing, and yet another Dutch woman is assaulted in the French town of Perpignan. But Sebag does not wear the stereotypes of hyper-masculinity and chauvinism well. As for me, I’ve never sought perfection in the novels I read. She wore a flowered dress, light on her tanned skin. By contrasting this dwindling group of homesick exiles to the individuals who once belonged to the OAS, Georget underscores the fine line that separates passion for a unique way of life and fixation on a narrow ideology. The protagonist puts his job first to the detriment of his family relationships. But Sebag, although he is a good cop, has meager ambitions. For each investigation, how many lives were broken, how many bodies lay in the cemetery, and how many souls were locked up behind four damp walls in a prison? ¤
Kim Fay is the author of A Map of Lost Memories. It is this kind of ambition that carries all of the novels, which have their interlacing flaws. Having retreated to France after independence, these former colonials still gather to reminisce and carry on the culinary and cultural traditions of their birthplace. And in another scene:
Gilles took the time to look at his son. In the third, the driving purpose feels a little far-fetched. Years earlier, when his second child was born, he took advantage of a part-time work schedule program for parents of both sexes. Fisher, I have spent countless uninterrupted hours basking in the newly discovered landscape of a single author. When I came across French writer Philippe Georget’s Crimes of Winter, translated by Steven Randall, I was excited to learn that it was the third of his Inspector Sebag novels. There are also awkward moments that feel driven by the translation from French to English: too often, for instance, tough cops throw off a scene with the grade school exclamation “yuck!”
I’m aware that these are quibbles, but I know many readers who will ditch a crime novel over quibbles, and so I like to mention them, to get them out of the way and, in this case, to make it clear that the Sebag books deserve to be judged by Georget’s fearlessness when it comes to taking on meaningful ideas and the bigger picture. Autumn, All the Cats are Bored could easily be a stand-alone. There is a special pleasure in encountering a book by someone you have never read before, and then devouring everything by that writer you can get your hands on. The majority of the secondary characters in the Perpignan police department are not clearly shaped, and it’s sometimes hard to remember who is who. But each novel feels distinctly different from the others. After all, Algeria gained its independence more than 50 years ago. Both the OAS and FLN were extremist. The city sits near the Spanish border and the Mediterranean coast, directly north of Algeria, whose French colonial history infiltrates the present day when an old man is murdered and the killer leaves a message painted on the back of a door: “OAS.” The OAS (Organisation Armée Secrète) was a clandestine paramilitary group dedicated to maintaining the French hold on Algeria. This setting is especially important in Autumn, All the Cats are Bored because the location of Perpignan is essential to the story line. The reader is aware of his nagging doubts about his wife’s infidelity, but the murders of aging OAS militants play the lead role. When he realizes the delicate item belongs to his preteen daughter, Séverine, the reader feels his nostalgia for her rapidly vanishing girlhood. The institution of marriage in Perpignan feels as if it’s in peril when a husband murders his wife, another husband commits suicide, and a different husband douses his house in gasoline and threatens to burn it down with his wife inside. The POV shifts randomly — sometimes just a few sentences in a scene — the function seeming to be to hold Sebag’s narrative together. Both believed in armed resistance and killed civilians in the name of their causes. Earlier, she’d studied dance for ten years, and her body remembered it.” Some characters are simply not meant to be confined by their genre, and Gilles Sebag is one of them. JULY 10, 2017
I ENJOY BINGE-WATCHING Netflix as much as the next person, but what I really love is binge-reading. From Charlotte Brontë to Graham Greene to M. In it, Georget takes the stuff of existential novels and folds it into the crime genre’s formula. Soon after the first murder, a second body is discovered, also accompanied by the message “OAS.” As Gilles searches for the killer, his gut tells him to focus on motive. Evidence connecting the crimes to one another is slim, but Gilles doggedly searches for intersections, driven by his intuition and by his personal demons. His features had gotten coarser with adolescence, and a few ugly pimples studded his cheeks. With both of his children going away in July, “This was the first summer [Sebag and his wife Claire] were likely to spend entirely alone. But “[a] man who chooses his children over his profession […] This has not been well-received in the macho world of the police, and it had affected the development of his career.” As a result, “something in him was broken: He no longer felt any real passion for his work.”
Usually, in crime fiction, it’s the other way around. The Sebag series is billed as noir, and there are times when these books do follow expected tropes. All of these incidents occur after each husband learns that his wife has been unfaithful, and Sebag finds himself faced with a series of transgressions linked by only one thing: infidelity. The mystery is intricately calculated, but it pales in comparison to Sebag’s personal life. The latter nicely allows Georget to immerse readers in the setting of Perpignan, the capital of the Pyrénées-Orientales department   in southern   France. Sebag is attached to the small, domestic details of his life, and when these moments are revealed, the books shine. He is addicted to gourmet coffee to the point that a bad cup of joe can capsize his mood, and he is a marathon runner. He is meticulous with clues and proof, but relies heavily on his instinct — and has such great success with it that his superintendent recognizes its worth, much to the annoyance of his colleagues. The first, Summertime, All the Cats are Bored, is very much a love story. F. He would rather play Scrabble with his children than work overtime, and his feelings of fulfillment and accomplishment come from fatherhood, not his career. But as I read from book to book, I found that Georget has not written a typical crime series. A man like this — a cop like this — is definitely worth knowing.