You have a choice which way you go in this war…’
Paris, September 1940.
After three months under Nazi Occupation, not much can shock Detective Eddie Giral. That is, until he finds a murder victim who was supposed to be in prison. Eddie knows, because he put him there. The dead man is not the first or the last criminal being let loose onto the streets. But who is pulling the strings, and why?
This question will take Eddie from jazz clubs to opera halls, from old flames to new friends, from the lights of Paris to the darkest countryside – pursued by a most troubling truth: sometimes to do the right thing, you have to join the wrong side…
I was thrilled and delighted to win a copy of Chris Lloyd’s Paris Requiem in a competition. Though I’ve not had the chance to read it all the way through yet, I have quickly read a few chapters and already know it’s a gripping story I’m going to have to come back to.
So I have asked Chris Lloyd to join me on the blog today to participate in my ‘4×4’ slot and in so doing, to tell us more about the book, its principal characters and the setting for Paris Requiem.
What inspired you to write Paris Requiem?
Paris Requiem is the second in the series that began with The Unwanted Dead. The first book took place in the first ten days of the Nazi Occupation of Paris. The second book, Paris Requiem, is set in the autumn of 1940, three months into the Occupation. The German soldiers occupying the city had initially been told to be on their best behaviour as Hitler saw Paris as the second city of the Reich. By the autumn, however, this façade was beginning to crumble and the first signs of harsh treatment from the Occupiers and of resistance from the French were beginning to show. I wanted to portray the city at this uncertain, insecure time and the way the people of the city coped with it.
I have an overall arc in mind of what happens to Eddie, the main character, a French police detective forced to work under Nazi rule, and the themes I want to write about, but for the specific story, I always find that the research provides a spark that ignites the flame. In this case, I discovered a true story of French prisoners going missing from a prison in Paris. Eddie’s investigation into the case blends fiction with history as he uncovers what’s going on.
The second main strand is also based on real events, and looks at the fate of African soldiers who had fought with the French army. The story, which I only partly knew before researching, was too powerful not to include.
Tell me about 4 key characters in your book and why they are important
Eddie Giral. The books simply wouldn’t exist without Eddie. It’s not just that he’s the main character, but his are the eyes and ears through which we live the story. He’s evolved into the most enjoyably complex character to write. He has a chequered history, suffering shell-shock in the First World War and being taken prisoner, joining the police in Paris rather than returning to his home in the south of France at the end of WWI, spiralling into self-destruction and drugs while moonlighting in Montmartre jazz clubs in the 1920s, abandoning his wife and son in a decision he thought was for their best rather than his, settling into a semblance of a quiet life until the arrival of the Germans in Paris suddenly change all that. They have all gone into making him an unpredictable character who has the power to surprise me when I’m writing about him.
Major Hochstetter. Hochstetter is a major in the Abwehr, German military intelligence, who is brought in to liaise with the French criminal police in their investigations. Menacing andintelligent, he has the power of life and death over Eddie and uses him to further his own aims, giving Eddie help whenever it suits him. Hochstetter’s relationship with Eddie mirrors the fortunes of the Occupation, showing the ebb and flow of power and influence that each has over the other, although with Eddie almost always in the weaker position. The relationship becomes almost one of mutual support as the two of them use the other to protect themselves.
Dominique. Dominique is the mother of a young Senegalese soldier who has been reported taken prisoner but who is missing. Not quite an old flame of Eddie’s, she asks him for help in
finding her son, which he does reluctantly. Dominique is the good in Eddie. She brings out a side to his character that has been suppressed as he reverts to a version of himself that is mad, bad and dangerous to know in order to survive the Occupation. She’s a reminder to him to keep his moral compass intact.
Capeluche. Capeluche is one of the most important characters in the story, but we don’t know who or even what Capeluche is. And I can’t say any more than that, as that would be giving the game away.
Can you pick 4 authors or books you admire ?
The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier. My mum gave me this book when I was about ten and it’s the moment I knew I wanted to be a writer. I think that the impression that the book must have left on me was the ability to tell a universal story through an individual tale.
The Daughter of Time by Jospehine Tey. This for me is the most sublime historical crime novel. It’s not just an entertaining, intelligent story, it actually contributed to the debate at the time on Richard III and the murder of the princes in the tower, which is historical fiction at its most powerful.
Robert Harris. I am always in awe at his ability to write across so many time periods with such accuracy and authority, every time creating a story that is thoroughly absorbing and authentic.
Douglas Adams. I love the intelligent silliness of the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy books. They are also an object lesson in the joy of playing with language. On a possibly more serious note, the Occupation series is set at a very dark time, but people often coped by using dark humour, so these books taught me the value of using moments of humour to break the bleakness but also to convey a strong message in a different way.
Tell me about 4 places you associate with Paris Requiem
Eddie lives on the Left Bank as he feels safe there. It was to a hospital on the Left Bank that he was sent when he was suffering from shell-shock in the First World War, and it was where he finally returned in the 1920s after leaving his wife and son to try and restore some stability to his life. His small apartment in a narrow street in the Fifth Arrondissement is both a safe haven and a place where he feels haunted by the decisions he’s taken. One of the most important pieces of research for me when starting to write the series was to find the place where Eddie lived – that gave me so much of his character.
A lot of the action takes place in the Montparnasse district of Paris, and some of the key scenes are set in Montparnasse cemetery. Here, Eddie is trapped and taunted. A chilling warning is left for him on the monument to Baudelaire, an unsettling and spectral set of sculptures in fitting tribute to the author of The Flowers of Evil and translator of Edgar Allan Poe. The culmination is a scene set at the foot of the monument in the pouring rain.
At one point in the story, Eddie is taken to a warehouse on the Bassin de la Villette. He returns later, in the dead of night to try and discover the secrets the building holds. He finds more than he imagined he would. The Bassin is a curious place to research. Now, it’s gentrified, with boutique shops and bistros and desirable residences for young urbanites. In Eddie’s day, it was a grimy industrial port, bringing canal barges filled with coal and other goods into Paris – although in 1940, there was little being brought in – so one of the challenges of writing about it is exploring the district, trying to picture it in its previous life and ignoring much of what I actually saw about me.
Paris is the heart of the story, but Eddie’s investigation – and his fear of events happening in the city – lead him to a forest near Compiègne, over an hour northeast of Paris. This is a rural world that is also suffering from Occupation, shortages and graft, but in a different way from what Eddie’s used to in Paris. Chased by German soldiers and held for questioning by a Wehrmacht officer, Eddie is frustrated in his attempts to find the truth, including the ignominy of Hochstetter having to rescue him from the local Wehrmacht garrison. It is also where he finally makes a shocking discovery.
Can you pinpoint 4 films that convey the atmosphere you are writing about in Paris Requiem?
One of my favourite films, Casablanca has exactly the feel that I want to convey in Paris Requiem. The desperation of people caught up in the war, the levels of distrust and uncertainty, the claustrophobia of being trapped and of not knowing who to turn to, the smoky sleaze of the jazz club – they’re all perfect in the film. And, of course, Humphrey Bogart, who is just sublime as Rick. I have to see if Eddie will ever find his Ilse.
Filmed in France during the Occupation, but banned from being screened, Le Corbeau wasn’t shown until after the liberation. With a hugely oppressive atmosphere, it beautifully and shockingly portrays the distrust people were encouraged by an evil regime to feel towards each other and the depths to which they found themselves sinking through force of circumstance.
Directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster, The Train tells the story of a train filled with stolen art treasures that the Nazis are trying to get out of Paris, and the attempts by French railway workers and resistance members to stall the train, while keeping its contents safe. Moody and filled with foreboding, it’s a wonderful story of how ordinary people would commit small but incredibly brave acts to stand up to the Occupier and attempt to thwart their plans.
A more recent film is Persian Lessons, about Gilles a young Jewish man who pretends to be Persian in order to save his own life in a concentration camp. He is set the task of teaching Persian to one of the German officers, who wants to open a restaurant in Persia after the war, so Gilles finds himself having to invent a language. The story focuses on the relationship between the two men, with Gilles having to use all his guile to deceive the officer in order to stay alive, rather like Eddie uses Hochstetter to survive the Occupation.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on the second draft of the next book in the Occupation series. This takes place during the first Christmas of the Occupation and deals with the issue of the black market and the huge inequalities between the haves and have-nots that the Occupation created or exacerbated.
The fourth book in the series is already more or less plotted, so that will be the next step after that. I’d also like to become a lot more organised so that I can write more prolifically and finally get down to writing some ideas for standalone books that keep clamouring for my attention.
My thanks to Chris Lloyd for joining me today and to Orion Books for facilitating this Q&A. Paris Requiem by Chris Lloyd is out now, published by Orion. (Hardback, £18.99)
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Straight after graduating in Spanish and French, Chris Lloyd hopped on a bus from Cardiff to Catalonia and stayed there for over twenty years. He has also lived in Grenoble – researching the French Resistance movement – as well as in the Basque Country and Madrid, where he taught English and worked in educational publishing and as a travel writer. He now lives in South Wales and is a translator and novelist. Paris Requiem is his second novel set in Paris, featuring Detective Eddie Giral. The first, The Unwanted Dead, won the Historical Writers’ Association Gold Crown Award for best historical novel of the year, and was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Historical Dagger Award.