Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Salamander: J. Robert Janes

J. Robert Janes has written a series of sixteen books about two men in Occupied France in 1942 and 1943 who are on opposite sides but must work together. Gestapo officer Hermann Kohler and  his partner, Sûreté Chief Inspector Jean-Louis St-Cyr have been instructed by their superiors to work together to investigate crimes.  Over time, they develop 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?

Salamander, the fourth book in the series is set in Lyons, France, in December of 1942. From the cover of my Soho edition:
Jean-Louis St-Cyr of the Sûreté Nationale has been teamed with Hermann Kohler, formerly a Munich cop, now of the Gestapo, with respect to all police investigations of the so-called "ordinary crimes." They are sent to Lyon to find an arsonist. A fire set in a cinema has left one hundred and eighty-three Frenchmen and women dead. Is the crime linked to prewar cases of arson in Lubeck, Cologne and Heidelberg in Germany? Or to the Resistance, several of whose members were trapped in the flames? Or is there a pyromaniac at large who kills for sexual thrills and release? St-Cyr and Kohler face their most difficult challenge as they take on the case of the firebug who has been given the name of Salamander.
I am a fan of this series, but it has it problems. The writing is sometimes jerky and the story is often hard to follow. For me, the effort is worth it, primarily for the portrayal of France and it citizens during the German occupation. And the characterizations of the two policemen.

In this book we are in either Kohler's head or St-Cyr's head much of the time. This provides many hints to their characters and details about their friendship but also contributes to the confusion with frequent changes of point of view. This particular book in the series is heavy on sexual content, with a brothel and sexual perversions being a major element in the investigation.

Each book ends with a reference to the next case. There is very little time between each book. It isn't like a cliffhanger, just an enticement, and it works with me, I want to jump into the next one immediately.

Why did I read this book, now? Because the investigation is set around Christmas time, a time when everyone would rather be doing anything else but investigating an arson case. The fire occurred two days before Christmas and there are references to Christmas throughout. But this is not a cheery Christmas story.

For anyone interested in the series, I would recommend starting with the first book in the series, Mayhem (also published as Mirage) which provides background on the major characters.

You can see more about the series at the following links:

  • Cara Black, author of the Aimee Leduc series, wrote a post on Mayhem, which also covers Mannequin, Sandman, and Stonekiller.
  • J. Kingston Pierce posted two interviews with J. Robert Janes in 2012, one at Kirkus and a second at the Rap Sheet


Publisher:   Soho Press, 1998 (orig. pub. 1994)
Length:       311 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       A St-Cyr and Kohler Investigation #4
Setting:      Lyon, France, 1942.
Genre:        Police procedural, thriller
Source:      I purchased this book.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, this series is for me, I think. I have a fascination for WWII and Cold War novels, though I haven't read any this year. I will start with the first in the series. Thanks for spotlighting the book and its author.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting premise for a series, Tracy. I can see how you'd be drawn to the setting and the dynamics, even if there are problems with the series. I'll admit, I've not read any of the novels, but the context is fascinating.

TracyK said...

I am glad you think this series will appeal to you, Prashant, and hope you enjoy it.

TracyK said...

It is fascinating, Margot. I have enjoyed getting this picture of France during the occupation.

Mathew Paust said...

Intriguing concept. I wonder if something like that actually did happen during WWII. I find it hard to believe, but I suppose anything is possible. I shall check this author out, Tracy. (reading a Jane Langton novel now, and liking it!)

TracyK said...

Good question, Mathew. I have no idea if they did have such situations. In this book there is also a French fire marshal working with a German expert in that area, but that relationship does not goes so well.

Very glad to hear you are liking the Jane Langton novel you are reading.

Mathew Paust said...

By coincidence I'm watching the DVD of a British series called "The Tunnel" featuring a cop from France and one from Britain working together to catch a serial killer working in both countries. It starts with a body found at midpoint of the tunnel under the Channel. The upper half, a French politician, is in the French side, the legs from a British prostitute. It's wonderfully done. Our library has only the first two seasons, altho I don't know if the series ran any longer.

TracyK said...

Mathew, we watched the first season of that series and liked it a lot. I think it had three seasons but we haven't continued with it, I don't know why. If you do watch Season 2, let me know how you liked it.

col2910 said...

I did wonder if I might have read something by this author, but a blog search throws up a blank. I must be confusing him with someone else. I might have to give this one a miss, too many already and I don't want to start 2019 off on the wrong note!

TracyK said...

I know what you mean, Col, I keep looking at my overloaded bookshelves and convincing myself not to add more books to my piles.