Mystery review: Pel and the Faceless Corpse by Mark Hebden

Genre: Police procedural
Year of publication: 1979
No. in series: 2
Series detective: Chief inspector Evariste Clovis Désiré Pel of the French Police Judiciaire's Brigade Criminelle
Setting & time: Burgundy, France; contemporary

On a miserably cold and windy winter’s night Pel is called out to a farm where the body of a murdered man has been found in front of a memorial for resistance fighters killed by the Germans during World War II. The man has been shot in the face and head in such a way as to make his face unrecognisable, and because his fingerprints are not on file Pel and his men have a hard slog ahead of them to even find out who he is, let alone find his murderer. Complicating things is a second murder and an attempt on the life of a farmer who lives nearby. Then there are the fugitive bank robbers who may be hiding out in the area, and a pesky chicken thief the commissaire of police wants caught. All this weaves together to make an entertaining story.

Judging from this book, Mark Hebden was an expert in creating atmosphere. The cold, damp and windy winter weather he describes certainly gave me the shivers and made me wish I had waited until summer to read the book, because it heightened the winter chills I have been having lately. In that he rivals Arnaldur Indriðason.

The characters of the policemen were distinct and their detection methods different from each other, so there was never any danger of getting them mixed up like I have sometimes done when reading police procedurals. The story is interesting, for the plot, which is a typical police procedural plot with several investigations going on at the same time, for the characters, and for bringing up the German occupation of France in World War II, the crimes the Germans committed against the French and how the victims and/or their families have coped in different ways since. The red herrings are nicely done, and while I suspected that they could be red herrings, Hebden writes the story in such a way that at no time was I sure. I did see the final twist coming, but only a chapter or so ahead of Pel, so all in all I have to say “well done”. I will definitely be on the lookout for more of Hebden's books.

Rating: An intereting and chilly police procedural. 3+ stars.


Gallimaufry said…
Thank you for the recommendation, will look out for Hebden's books.

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