Sunday, June 9, 2013

J is for J. Robert Janes

Kaleidoscope by J. Robert Janes is my submission for the Crime Fiction Alphabet at Mysteries in Paradise this week. Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for the letter J.

Janes is a Canadian writer of crime fiction and children's books. Per MysteriousPress.com, publisher of his latest books:
J. Robert Janes (b. 1935) is a mystery author best known for writing historical thrillers. Born in Toronto, he holds degrees in mining and geology, and worked as an engineer, university professor, and textbook author before he began writing fiction. ... In 1992, Janes published Mayhem, the first in the long-running St-Cyr and Kohler series for which he is best known. These police procedurals set in Nazi-occupied France have been praised for the author’s attention to historical detail, as well as their swift-moving plots. Bellringer is the thirteenth in the series.
The Story

The  book is set in Occupied France, in December of 1942. It is the story of two men who are on opposite sides but must work together. Gestapo Haupsturmführer Hermann Kohler and  his partner, Sûreté Chief Inspector Jean-Louis St-Cyr have been thrown together by circumstances to investigate crimes.  They have developed a trusting relationship, but know that due to the realities of war, it will probably not end well. One side or the other will be the victor, and then where will their loyalties lie?

The two detectives are sent from Paris to a small village in Provence to investigate the death of a woman who is still lying on the hillside when they arrive. She has been shot with an arrow from a crossbow, thus limiting the suspects to those who can shoot with that weapon accurately. The victim turns out to be Anne-Marie Buemondi, who lives in Cannes but has come to the area to visit her daughter, who has health problems. The plot gets complicated very quickly, with suspicions that the death is related in some way to the activities of the maquis, the French Resistance.

My Take

I enjoyed the book, but I was confused by the narrative and the jerkiness of the plot as I read at least the first half of the book. There were references to past events and other characters that I did not understand. It turns out that Jean-Louis is having trouble remembering the details of a traumatic event that occurred several years earlier, which explains the choppiness of the segments, but reading it was still confusing.

Having read the first two books in the series (several years ago), I had some knowledge of the background of the story, yet this did not help too much. The relationships the detectives have with others (family, superiors) are covered pretty sketchily in this book, compared to the previous two, to give more time to the story, which was fine with me but might seem strange if you haven't read any earlier books. This is not spy fiction, but in some ways it reads like spy fiction. With the French authorities working with the occupiers, there is always distrust and no one ever knows who is on what side.

I have read reviews by others who had similar concerns re the complexity of the plot and narrative, yet most seem to find the series rewarding. It has a lot to offer. If you read this series, I suggest starting with the first book, which does explain the setup. Hopping around to different books in the series after that may not make that much difference.

In summary, this is an interesting and informative book about a time in history that I keep coming back to in my mystery (and non-fiction) reading. I have four more in the series in my TBR stacks, and plan to keep reading through the series. I hope to read the next one soon in order to be able to make comparisons.

What Others Say:

Mayhem, the first book in the series, was featured at The Rap Sheet as a "Book You Have to Read." Here is is what Cara Black, author of the Aimée Leduc series set in modern-day Paris, France, says in that post:
It’s impossible to praise too highly the subtle ways in which author Janes shows the twisted times of World War II in Europe through the stories of his two policemen, both of whom are suffering in their private lives.
J. Kingston Pierce comments at The Rap Sheet on Salamander, the fourth book in the series:
Amazingly, those onetime enemies had not only been getting along since their first adventure in Mayhem (aka Mirage), published in 1992, but had become a rather crack team of crime solvers--often to the disgruntlement of their Gestapo superiors in Paris, who see them as far too independent. While war storms across the face of Europe, it’s up to St-Cyr and Kohler to solve the more everyday but nonetheless disturbing crimes--the assaults, the thefts, the occasional cross-bow killings. Misdeeds outside the scope of state-sanctioned battle.
Additional Tidbits:

Carousel, the second book in the series, is another complex story of three connected murders that St-Cyr and Kohler are charged with solving. I am including an image of the cover for the Soho edition. I like this style of Soho covers in general, and this one is particularly nice.

A fourteenth St-Cyr and Kohler Investigation, Tapestry, has just been published on June 4th, 2013. It and Bellringer are available as eBooks or in paperback.

Janes also recently published a non-series novel, The Hunting Ground, set in Europe in the years immediately after World War II.

This is my thirteenth and final book for the Canadian Book Challenge 6.

17 comments:

  1. TracyK: I am not familiar at all with Janes. The books sound interesting. I wonder if he started writing mysteries after he retired.

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    1. Bill, According to his website, http://www.jrobertjanes.com/, he started writing full-time in 1970, when he would have been about 35 years old. And he had four young children at the time. It must have been about twenty years later that he started this series.

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  2. Tracy - Thanks for this review. I think it's interesting that there are certain times in history that we tend to find fascinating and come back to in our reading. I don't blame you for finding this era interesting. I may give this a try.

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    1. Margot, I hope you do give one of J. Robert Janes' books a try, just because I would like to know what you think of it. They have gotten a lot of critical acclaim over time.

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  3. Tracy, I'm glad you enjoyed it, but it's another rain-check from me. I do like the covers though, they're nearly selling it to me!

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    1. Col, those Soho covers are great. You and I both have too many books to read. I am not sure you would like this anyway. The books are a mixed bag, sort a love it or hate it kind of thing.

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  4. Like Col, I like the colours but I'm not so sure about the book. If I see a copy though, I'll pick it up.

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    1. Sarah, if you find a copy I think it would be worth your time, just because you do like the time period. However, Mayhem is the best one to start with...

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  5. I like the idea of a German detective and a French detective thrown together to solve the mysteries in Nazi occupied France. It is an interesting period and I will look for this series. Thanks for the recommendation.

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    1. srivalli, it is a wonderful concept to base a series on, and that is exactly what appeals to me. The relationship between the two detectives is very interesting.

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  6. Tracy, I like the idea of reading a crime fiction set during WWII in occupied France, especially a Nazi officer and a French inspector investigating a crime together. But, how does Chief Inspector Jean-Louis St-Cyr feel about working with the Gestapo whose brutal regime has occupied his own country? Does the author mention this anywhere?

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    1. I must admit I didn't realise Srivalli had raised the same issue.

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    2. Prashant, St-Cyr is resentful of working with the Gestapo, and I think both he and his German partner are unhappy with the situation they are in. But in this context, they are at the low level, doing as they are bid. It has been a while since I read them, but I think the first two books cover the territory of them learning to work together. In this book they trust each other but know that each has their own agenda and the future is uncertain.

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  7. Interesting from a different aspect all together., two bad guys working on the case. :)

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    1. Scott, it is interesting because you can see the situation from the point of view of both characters, who are in some ways on different sides, in other ways working together.

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  8. I think I read one of this series a while back, but certainly had no idea that there were so many books. Like a couple of others above, I love the covers!

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    1. Moira, I knew there were eight, because I have most of them. But I too was surprised that there are a total of fourteen. If I had unlimited funds (which would include unlimited bookshelves), I would buy a lot of books just for the covers.

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