Romain Slocombe, L’Affaire Leon Sadorski (2016)
I bet this book will not sell its rights in the US anytime soon. It is very French, and very disturbing, and right now this is not what the American readership wants to read at all.
Leon Sadorski is the most despicable character I’ve encountered in a long while. He’s violent, Antisemitic and racist, sex obsessed and sexist, anti Communist and anti gays. He’s corrupt, he lies all the time and he’s not courageous. And he’s rather full of himself because for the moment the law is clearly on his side, so he needn’t worry too much.
Leon Sadorski works for the French police, which in 1942 works hand in hand with the Nazi occupation force. Not on an equal footing though. The Germans are always a bit condescending with the French, always suspicious of potential resistance spies, always weary of people who proclaim too much their newly professed love for Hitler. Sadorski knows how to deal with them: submissive, brown-nosing, taking them to visit Montmartre red light bars, looking the other way as a German officer chats his own wife up. He used to have problems with his hierarchy back before the defeat, but since France has decided with Marechal Petain to tow the line and learn from the German model, his colleagues fear and respect him. He knows somewhere deep that he’s always walking a fine line, but so far he has been one lucky bastard.
This novel is not for the faint of heart. Physically as well as morally, what we get to see is really revolting. Of course, that’s what the author wants. And he comes with lots of details to make daily life in Paris in 1942 vividly real, and those collaborators also very real. Slocombe actually mixes fictional characters with a lot of real people who got really close to the Germans during the war and who got away with it, becoming famous artists, wealthy businessmen or even politicians after the end of the war. Slocombe combed through the archives of the police force and the reports of this era are not pretty.
It didn’t take me to long to finish the book. The mystery itself is not the most interesting. But it made me uncomfortable because I felt like a voyeur. I couldn’t get away fast enough and I felt dirty afterwards. It is interesting but I’m not about to try another. It was one of my June picks for the Unreadshelf challenge and I’m glad I’ve got rid of this one!