Crime Fiction Lover: "...a delightful summer read."
Date: Aug 6 2013
Despite the distinctively postmodern title, this book is not a noir-ish meditation on the futility of existence. Instead, it is a straightforward though not to say simplistic police procedural. Summertime All the Cats Are Bored is set in the Perpignan area of Southern France, right on the border with Spain. This novel paints a very appealing portrait of this colourful region, with its blend of Catalan and French names, vocabulary and culture.
It is summertime, in case you didn’t guess, and the campsites on the Mediterranean are heaving with tourists. Policeman Gilles Sebag is struggling to drum up interest in petty cases such as cross-border cigarette smuggling and a missing taxi driver suspected of cheating on his wife. Then it emerges that a young Dutch student went missing at around the same time. Could the two cases be related? When the police discover that another Dutch girl was killed just a few weeks earlier on a campsite near Argelès, and another one narrowly escapes an abduction attempt, they start to worry that a serial killer is on the loose, targeting pretty blonde Dutch holidaymakers.
An absurdly high ransom demand arrives at the police station. They have no intention of paying it, but pretend to play along. And, they have to answer some puzzling questions. Why are all the messages addressed specifically to Sebag? Why is the perpetrator choosing such a different MO for each crime? Is he trying to deliberately confuse issues, playing a nasty game of cat-and-mouse with the police? What possible motive could there be for these crimes? And how can you find a criminal motivated by nothing other than boredom?
Sebag is from that new breed of detective we’re starting to see more of in crime fiction. He’s not a drunk with a background full of damage. Instead, he’s a devoted family man with a happy, healthy lifestyle. However, as his teenage children head off on their own for the holidays, and the house is frequently empty when he comes home, he becomes consumed by the fear that his wife is cheating on him. This makes him somewhat less observant than he should be, and he misses some important clues back on the case, which becomes a bit frustrating. Did the criminal overestimate his detecting abilities? Will the hunter become the hunted?
At the start of the book, we are also introduced to elderly widower Robert, a regular visitor to the Argelès campsite, who finds the first body. At various points throughout the book, we are likewise exposed to the point of view of the kidnapped girl and the kidnapper, but you’re unsure at first whether these events relate to the same crime, or what the real timeline is. This is confusing and at points the investigation seems unnecessarily slow. However, things are straightened out about a third of the way through, and the multiple points of view add psychological depth.
Fear not, this is no terrifying read like that other French kidnapping story we reviewed earlier this year, Alex. Despite its dark subject matter, Summertime All the Cats Are Bored feels light, charming and ultimately life-affirming: a delightful summer read.