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Magson, Adrian - 'Death at the Clos du Lac'
Paperback: 384 pages (Apr. 2014) Publisher: Allison & Busby ISBN: 0749015772

"One day I'll get a dry one," he murmured, looking back at the body.
"Someone who just curled up in bed and died normally. No water, no canal, no ponds or lakes..."

Picardie, France – Spring, 1964.
At the Clos du Lac sanatorium a man is standing on the bottom of the therapy pool. He gazes upwards with dead eyes, his ankles chained to a heavy milk churn that lies on the floor of the pool. Policeman Claude Lamotte calls in the death to the Amiens office. A half kilometre away, a man retrieves a moped from a dilapidated barn and pedals towards the Paris road, it is some time before he engages the bike's motor.

No-one in the area seems to know who owns the Clos du Lac these days. It is staffed exclusively by non-locals and tonight the only staff member on duty is the nurse who found the dead man. Understandably she is upset and Inspector Lucas Rocco sits and drinks coffee and brandy with her whilst he questions her. But Nurse Dion tells Rocco that she cannot discuss the dead man. She has already rung the Director of the clinic, who will arrive shortly, and all questions must go through him. Yes, she was alone here. The security man? She doesn't know where he is. In fact The Director proves even less cooperative. He will not disclose the man's identity, the reasons for his stay, the reasons for any of the clients' presence, nor indeed who referred them and why. But he does give Rocco a card with a name and phone number on it. However this is not the name of the dead man. It is the name of the man to be contacted in the event of problems at the Clos du Lac. The Director explains that he has already been summoned, "standard operational procedure". The official language is not lost on Rocco and his premonition is confirmed when the contact, M. Levignier, arrives. The Interior Ministry will be taking charge of the case and the local police is to have nothing further to do with the matter.

Calling his own boss from the phone in the pool house, Rocco is surprised by a patient, a fat man in a bathrobe, who – sleepy from drugs – says his name is Stefan and that the man in the pool is Simon Ardois, although later in the conversation he refers to him as "Rotenbourg". Rocco leaves the clinic and goes on to check the home of the missing security man. But he is too late. The man is dead, seated in an armchair and shot twice at close range.

Meanwhile in early morning Paris a woman leaves an expensive beauty salon near Boulevard Haussman. She is distracted by a van drawing into the kerb, with the driver smiling and holding up a clipboard. At that moment she is overpowered, bundled into the van, forced onto a mattress face-down, bound and hooded. The van drives away through the Paris streets...

DEATH AT THE CLOS DU LAC is the fourth in British writer Adrian Magson's "Inspector Rocco" novels, set in the rural Picardie of 1960s France. This time a drowned man, a weeping nurse, and a dead security officer, tip Rocco into conflict with powerful men. First Rocco finds himself locked out of the investigation by government security, then of the clinic itself which is quickly emptied of patients, staff and corpse. All that remains for Rocco to work with is the shooting of the clinic's security officer and the identity of the mysterious "Stefan" with whom he spoke in the pool house. Meanwhile the kidnap of a wealthy industrialist’s wife, against the backdrop of France's trade talks with China and Taiwan, brings government security into focus and soon Rocco feels as if every move he makes is watched and blocked.

DEATH AT THE CLOS DU LAC is smoothly written, with passages that evoke a landscape and period which is familiar to Magson from his own childhood in rural France. He gives us a well-told detective story where the cops are broad-shouldered and wily – not to mention tall, good-looking, and elegant in the case of Rocco. (Magson admits to the early influence of "The Saint" novels of Leslie Charteris upon his childhood concept of "hero".) With good characterisation, a touch of true-to-life incident, mystery and just enough murky dealings in the darker corners of the corridors of power to satisfy the paranoid amongst us, his latest Rocco is a good read that is easy to recommend to a broad audience of crime-fiction fans, not least the Francophiles amongst us.

Lynn Harvey, England
July 2014

Lynn blogs at
Little Grey Doll.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 27/07/2014 13:41