Nazis in the Metro by Didier Daeninckx, translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis

On May 8, 1945, the day Nazi Germany surrendered, the French government began a massacre of Muslim nationalists in Algeria that ended with the deaths of 15,000 to 20,000 civilians. There were soldiers who fought for France in Germany who returned to Algeria only to find the families dead, and their homes destroyed.

Not something I expected to learn in a gritty, noir detective novel set in Paris but expose and education is the larger purpose of French author Didier Daeninckx. Mr. Daeninckx is just as interested in exposing the crimes of society at large as he is in telling a good detective story. In fact, an earlier novel, Murder in Memoriam resulted in the actual investigation and imprisonment of Nazi collaborators.

The detective in Nazis in the Metro, Gabriel Lecouvreur, is looking into the case of a once famed author, found beaten nearly to death on the streets of Paris. While the author lies nearly comatose in the hospital, Lecouvreur manages to connect him to a group of nationalist fascists aligned with communist groups who were all on the rise in late 1990’s France.

It’s not unusual for detective fiction to use a fictional crime to investigate much larger societal issues. Think of the movie Chinatown, which connects a kidnapping to the Owens Valley water project that destroyed acres of orchard land and made greater Los Angelos possible. But Chinatown was only incidentally about the Owens Valley project, and whatever crimes it involved the perpetrators were long gone by the time the movie was made. Nazis in the Metro is very focused on the rise of antisemitic nationalism/fascism in contemporary France– Le Pen pere is mentioned several times, and the novel’s crime really serves as a means to a political end. Mr. Daeninckx takes no prisoners. He names names whenever possible and makes sure that any pseudonyms are easy to connect to their real-life counterparts. Though this will be much easier for those more familiar with French politics than I am.

In the end, Nazis in the Metro is an entertaining enough noir thriller. The digressions into modern French politics do serve the plot and don’t weigh it down much. The reader is never forced to take a detour of more than two or three pages of exposition, the detective story equivalent of world building. This is my second book by Didier Daeninckx; while I won’t be actively looking for a third, should I happen upon one I’m more than willing to give it a go.