Death on the Rive Nord is a fast-paced police procedural set in the Somme valley, France, in 1963. It’s a really decent murder mystery full of local flavour, period detail and convincing characters. Magson has a style that’s easy to take to (a kind of Euro-hardboiled) and the quick-fire chapters make this is a proper page turner. For me, the setting matters a lot in a crime novel, it makes a murder mystery a more stimulating and interesting read, and Magson paints a picture of place, time and social context that just feels right. Death on the Rive Nord is an accomplished piece of plotting and storytelling. The novel had been substantially revised for this 2019 ebook edition.

In Death in the Marais, the first Inspector Lucas Rocco mystery, the Paris cop was sent to the country as part of an initiative to spread good practice throughout the national police force. This is no quiet rural idyll. No sooner had he arrived in his new beat than a woman dressed in Nazi uniform is murdered and left in a British war cemetery. Moving on . . .

In Death on the Rive Nord Inspector Rocco delves into the murder of an Algerian immigrant. A highly topical issue at the time as the Algerian war of independence had just ended and tensions between the French authorities and the Algerian population were running high. There is still a resonance today.

Somme valley, October, 1963. Armand Maurat is driving his Berliet truck on narrow twisting roads through the mist and the easterly wind on a dark cold night. He senses something in the air and starts flicking stations on the radio for a distraction:

“Depressing son of a bitch, Brel; enough to make a weak man jump off a bridge. On a lonely drive in the dark, it suited his mood.”

He’s been on the road for fifteen hours now, officially he’s transporting car parts but he has an extra human cargo on board. Finally, he sees the 1km to Pêche Privée marker, the drop point, he has to wait for a 2CV going the other way to pass before pulling in. He gets out of the cab and bangs on the back on the truck, the first shaky legged passenger emerges. Maurat is eager to get back on the road again so he urges the other refugees out, there’s even a woman with them, he gets them moving before they are spotted. It’s only as they disappear he realises there are seven of them, there should be eight. He climbs in to the back of the truck, through the tunnel in the boxes, the last man is lying in a pool of blood, dead. The only thing he can do is dump the body over the parapet into the river and vanish.

Inspector Lucas Rocco is settling in to a new way of life, his home is on the outskirts of Poissons-les-Marais. Local officer and friend Claude Lamotte helps him with the locals. Rocco is still troubled by nightmares of the war in Indochine (later Vietnam). When he gets to the station the Divisional Commissaire François Massin is talking about a new operation to keep an eye on Algerian immigrants, check documents etc. The unit has a new liaison officer for ‘special’ projects. There’s tension in the room and the casual prejudice of some of the officers doesn’t go down well with Rocco. Despite the rumours he was not involved in policing the Paris demonstrations that led to the death of several Algerian protestors in 1961. As the meeting breaks up Lamotte calls in to report a body in the canal near Poissons, Rocco’s new case:

“You said you haven’t met any Algerians here yet, inspector. I think that’s about to change.”

Oran, Algeria. In a small office is near the airport Samir Farek is quizzing a taxi driver about the whereabouts of ‘the woman’. The driver is uncooperative, perhaps he doesn’t recollect but Farek has no patience, two of his men trash the room as a third enters carrying a pistol with a silencer. Bouhassa is a stone-cold killer and his boss is in the mood to kill. With a gun to his head the taxi driver admits that five days ago he took a woman and a boy to le Vieux port, they boarded a boat, the Calypsoa sailing for Europe. No longer useful Farek let’s Bouhassa shoots the taxi driver. Farek had returned from a business trip to Cyprus to find that his wife has fled with his son. He sends Bouhassa after the shipping agent, the Calypsoa set sail for Barcelona. Farek will stop at nothing to get his son back. To do that he will have to go to Europe. . .

Atmospheric and tense, this is an enjoyable thriller that will have you wanting more of Inspector Lucas Rocco.

Dome press are re-publishing all six novels and one novella in Adrian Magson’s Lucas Rocco detective series.

Paul Burke 4/4

Death on the Rive Nord by Adrian Magson
The Dome Press B07RBYVVML ebook Sep 2019