Readers' reviews & questions
John Tynan, writing on June 27, 2015, the day after the massacre on a beach in Tunisia and the beheading of a man near Lyons, France, both in the name of terrorism, has contributed this review:
Roderick d'Entrac has written a novel of great force and perspicacity.
To those of us who have lived long enough in France to get immersed in its political life, the parallels to what is really going on in the country are closely reflected in his racy narrative.
The plot is complex and and it may be just a reflection of age - I found myself referring back to earlier pages to remind myself of certain characters. However such diligence is richly rewarded as the denouement draws the various strings successfully together to the climax of the story and to the great satisfaction of the reader.
During the story the shadows behind the plot become clear : examples include the Robert Boulin affair, the minister, who "was suicided" in a lake in the Forest of Rambouillet; the fictional FIBOC inspired by its alter ego, the Clearstream affair and the (unfounded) rumours linking it to the then Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin and his so-called attempts to blacken the reputation of others.
However the particular tour de force of this book is how we smoothly evolve from the past to the present day with the rise of the Islamic fundamentalist threat. Roderick d'Entrac anticipated the awakening of the sleeper units implanted in western countries, which have been directly referred to in recent days by the Ministre de l'Interieur, M Bernard Cazeneuve.
Finally let's hope that Roderick d'Entrac has not been so insightful as to actually see a 9/11 type event occurring in France in the near future. To date, he has been so "on the money" that this should not come as a surprise, all the more so as on a map you can see where the broad crescent of Islamic terrorist attacks - from Eastern Europe through the Middle East then on to North and West Africa - is closing in on Europe.
I would thoroughly recommend this book. Not only are the characters engaging and the plot page-turning, but one gains a privileged insight into the undergarments of the Fifth Republic as revealed by a master storyteller.
Take it on holiday; you won't regret it.
Edward Evans, a thriller writer, has contributed this comment from the south of France:
The story is excellent, exciting, full of intrigue
Comments and questions from Howard Brown, a reader living in London
Question: Your novel Paris Night is a fine piece of thriller writing in itself, but you obviously had an additional agenda; to offer a strong metaphor for the underside of French political life which will surprise and perhaps shock many readers. The plot intertwines political corruption and in-fighting, power struggles and rivalries within various arms of the state, slush funds, sex, criminals, terrorists, whistle-blowers and global power play in such a way that I had to ask myself if things were really as bad as this in France. Looking at readers' contributions on your website, and your own added remarks, it appears that they can and they are. You are clearly well qualified to observe and comment on the subject, but I am still left with some questions. Firstly, were you exaggerating at all to make your point?
Answer: Corruption, by its nature, escapes precise definition and quantification. I have used journalistic licence to construct pure fiction out of evidence which shows that corruption is a deep and widespread phenomenon in France, at least by the standards of advanced countries. However, I have focused mainly on corruption flowing from institutions of the state and from the environmentof politics -- on the grey areas of abuse of power, influence, procedures, relationships and flawed integrity. The story also refers to corrupt banking, but most of this is related to illicit activities related to the interests of the state or of people with official influence. Court cases relating to illicit arms commissions, and to slush funds by state entities are well documented, for example, as are past rivalry between security forces.
Lower down on this page, a French reader called JEB addresses much the same point in referring to a ranking of countries by corruption. At the beginning of December, 2013, the non-govermental organisation Transparency International published its latest report and ranking of perceived incidence of corruption, based on data collected by 13 international institutions among which were the World Bank, Asian and African development banks, and the World Economic Forum.The rating goes from a score of 100 for a country where corruption is rare to zero for an environment of high corruption. As mentioned elsewhere on this page, and on a separate page of this site, French President Francois Hollande himself warned earlier this year that the string of "affaires" of different types over many years -- the latest being the revelation that the budget minister Jerome Cahuzac responsible for fighting tax evasion had concealed illicit funds in undeclared foreign bank accounts -- was undermining public confidence to the point of putting the Fifth Republic in danger. This did not raise disagreement that he was exaggerating. Referring to this French context, Transparency International commented in its latest report that French action to clean up moralily in public life and to fight corruption clearly went in the right direction. "But now care must be taken that that they are fully applied and that there is a change in behaviour to make the new rules effective."
Here are the top rankings by Transparency International in its latest report
(A score of 100 denotes low corruption, and zero high corruption):
1, Denmark 91 and New Zealand 91; 3, Finland 89 and Sweden 89, 5. Norway 86 and Singapore 86;
7, Switzerland 85; 8, Netherlands 83; 9, Australia and Canada 81; 11, Luxembourg 80;
12, Germany and Iceland 78; 14 Britain 76; 15, Barbados 75 ... 19 United States 73
22, Bahamas, Chile, France, St Lucia 71
Question: Secondly, if no exaggeration, then is France so very different from other countries in Western Europe and, if so, what's behind the difference?
Answer: Well, any comment on this flows from the previous point. The Transparency ranking is based on perceptions of corruption. A related question is when does corruption in all its forms merge into a climate of outright crime and particularly organised crime. Gang crime in many countries, including the United States, is a vast and deep problem. Some cities in France, and the coastal area of the South of France (and indeed the southern European coastline) are reputed to be affected by high levels of endemic organised crime, by local mafias and by mafias from Italy, the Balkans and Russia, from North Africa and Corsica. Paris Night touches on this murky tidal zone where the waters of corruption and violent, established and international crime mingle.
Question: Thirdly, apart from the role of the on-line newspaper Mediapart in exposing the French Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac, I have the impression that the French Press aren't as potent a force in exposing wrong-doing in the political and ruling classes as they are in other parts of Europe, including the UK, where our newspapers will go to any lengths to bring someone down.Is this fair comment, and if so why? Are they more constrained by French privacy or other laws compared with elsewhere?
Answer: The French media have become sharper, more courageous, more investigative and more persistent in the last 35 years. President Francois Mitterrand introduced big reforms which diluted state influence on the media and opened up broadcasting to private companies, although he himself was unscrupulous in the methods used to suppress inconvenient information, about his secret and eventually fatal illness and about his secret family, for example. He also made use of illicit phone tapping. Mitterrand could count on a degree of complicity by the media, partly out of habit and fear of reprisals, but also out of an excessive respect for the principle of not raking up mud unless to do so is clearly in the public interest, and legal. French laws protecting privacy are as draconian and rigourously applied as the laws on protecting people accused of a crime are routinely abused, notably by the authorities. Another factor is a perception that too many journalists are (or were) too close to people in power, in government and in local authorities.
Mediapart broke the Cahuzac story because they went "fishing", that is to say they asked some questions about matters which appeared to them to be curious and began an investigation which turned out to be justified. They also showed a high degree of courage in publishing their scoop despite strong denials by the minister. In the last few years the unduly respectful attitude towards people in power has begun to break down. During the Mitterrand years a journalist called Jean Montaldo broke ground with excoriating revelations of corruption, and recently the book "Sexus politicus" by journalists Christophe Deloire and Christophe Dubois removed the fig leaf covering the extent and importance of sex as a potent force in the way the country functions at the highest levels.However, one must also recognise that in post-war terms, the French media have often shown skill, courage, and persistence in exposing the powerful and pursuing scoops, notably regarding the Algerian War of Independence. On the downside, and across media in advanced countries in general, there is a perception that investigative journalism has been one of the first victims of the disruption of media business models and the consequent reduction of editorial budgets arising from competition and "free" news on the Internet, although Mediapart is a wholly online publication.
Howard Brown says in a PS: I worked for many years for a large multinational with subsidiaries in France.I made many trips over many years, on both business and pleasure, and remain very fond of the country and its people.
A reader called Pat, writes from Paris:
Paris Night is a gripping read that I didn't want to put down. The well-paced plot keeps you engaged from beginning to end. It also has another key ingredient of a good thriller – a setting with enough plausibility. Perhaps, in light of the recent DSK and Clearstream scandals, it is social commentary masking as a thriller? Those who have lived or worked in France are no strangers to stories of a perfidious French elite and their debauched morals. Indeed it is fertile ground for thrillers. This novel is like pulling back the curtain of privacy that they love to hide behind – a glimpse through the windows of the beautiful buildings tourists ogle as they wander through Paris into the unseemly things one imagines goes on inside.
Jane Valentine has contributed this review:
As a francophile reader of many crime, spy novels and thrillers, I found this a terrific read in the mould of John Le Carre and Frederick Forsyth.
The author handles skilfully a complex and intriguing plot, set in France, involving shady and corrupt dealings in the top echelons of French and international society. He introduces a broad range of fascinating and enigmatic characters: from President, Interior Minister; a shady, wily double dealing fixer; hired assassin and high-powered women seeking retribution for past crimes and exploitation; old resistance fighters with their still exisiting networks.
It is obvious that Roderick d'Entrac has a broad understanding and wide knowledge of aspects of the 'deep' French state; the hubris, infighting and mutual suspicions of international intelligence agencies; kickbacks and corruption in high places; as well as the mechanisms, jealousies and amorality driving these forces.
A gripping, many layered and all too convincing story of plots, counter plots, ever present risk for the chief protagonist and his mission to foil a shady terrorist group threatening to bring exposure and ruin on the ruling elite .
A highly recommended novel which deserves to find a mainstream publisher.
Anne Fuller has commented:
I read Paris Night whilst on holiday in France and couldn't put it down as it is thrilling, feels authentic and totally engrossing; I was involved with the characters and the plot from the start and it was a joy to read such a well-writtenbook. The English is impeccable so it is hard to discern whether the author is French or English as he obviously is very knowledgeable about French political life and the topography of Paris.
Jeb, a Frenchman living in Paris, comments :
What a brilliant novel! Breathtaking action, superb writing, implacable description of corrupt practices in the corridors of power. ParisNight will be as a solace to those who in France and elsewhere strive to fight against corruption and nepotism. For sure, it is not impossible that some could misread this fascinating novel and use it as an excuse for some more “French bashing” stereotypes, like :
“France is and will definitely remain a much more corrupt country than other developed countries”
Here is how various countries have ranked over the last few years in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (out of a total number of 174 countries rated in 2012) :
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Germany 16 14 14 15 14 13
UK 12 16 17 20 16 17
USA 20 18 19 22 24 19
FRANCE 19 23 24 25 25 22
Undeniably, France position has slipped over the years, but seemed to be on the mend last year. The UK has followed a similar pattern overall. The USA fared much better in 2012. All together, these three countries belong to the same grouping (see the world mapping of corruption established by Transparency International: www.transparency.org).
“Media remain silent”
Such an investigative newspaper as Mediapart has seen its circulation boom over the last two years and Le Canard Enchaîné, with its large circulation, remains “one of the pillars of the Republic”.
“French people don’t care”
French People may seem sometimes more tolerant. They for sure are not Puritans, but they hate being taken for idiots and following the various scandals which surfaced over the last years, far from being content with the situation, the level of their discontent has now reached a very dangerous point, No, the French people are not asleep.
Remember 1789, 1830, 1848, 1870, 1968, 201.. ?
“JUDGE not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again (…)
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."
—Matthew 7:1-5 KJV
Roderick d'Entrac replies to Jeb:
Corruption, and the parasitic behaviour that tends to go with it, and seeking "rent" situations in the Ricardian sense of the term, are potentially fatal for civilisations. They were among the factors which brought down the Roman Empire.As these remarks below show, the theme and consequences of corruption in this novel are universal: the fabric of all of the countries mentioned below and many, many others is at risk or weakened by the many facets of corrupt and immoral behaviour which poisons institutions and public confidence in them. The main plot in Paris Night navigates in and around this. The novel is about France, the country I know best and which attracts more interest than most, just as other novelists look at other universal subjects by focusing on crime in the United States, espionage in Britain or violence against women in Sweden, just to give a few examples. And it should be noted that the conflict between good and evil in this novel turns also on the actions of high-minded French people striving to uphold the highest moral values and to clean out the stables. As noted elsewhere on this site, French President Francois Hollande himself says that the particular mixture and culture of corruption in France threatens the Republic.
Alex, an American-French reader living in Paris, comments:
From reading this novel, one gets the distinct impression that everything of import that happens in France takes place behind the scenes. What is served to the general public -- especially through news media -- is just a rudimentary sketch of what is really driving the country's very fabric. Some of it bubbles up from time to time -- I'm thinking of the complicated Clearstream scandal, the Bettencourt butler recordings, or the fall of Anne Lauvergeon (does one see parallels for these in Paris Night?) -- but otherwise it's "circulez rien a voir"! And, I dare say, the French seem to be ok with this in an unwritten deal between the populace and leadership: you keep our French dream alive and we'll let you carry on with your silly antics. And to bring it back to Hessel (mentioned in a previous exchange on this site), his final outrage was an attack of that dishonoring quid pro quo.
A wake-up call to France that the life of western abundance we enjoy today did not come without blood and sacrifice: food for thought as the Resistance generation fades away.
Rose Finkenstaedt, a reader in Paris, has contributed the following review:
"I have just finished the exciting new book by Roderick d'Entrac which I have been unable to put down. The author has a profound understanding of French politics (and culture) which provides underlying depth to the work. I consider it a must reading for all those who are interested in European affairs."
Roderick d'Entrac replies :
I wrote Paris Night as an unputdownable thriller; and also to offer insights into some aspects of how France works for the benefit of people who know the country, think they know it, or who find the recurrent scandals difficult to decipher. This could be useful to newly arrived diplomats, expats, students, people doing business, tourists and just all those with an interest in France and European affairs from afar. I also brought in some aspects of relations between France and the US, Britain, the Middle East, North Africa and the Balkans. It turns out that on several counts regarding corruption, terrorism and the wider landscape -- the issue of Iran for example, Paris Night is somewhat prophetic as well as rattling fictional skeletons from decades back. I'm very glad that you so enjoyed the book at all its levels, Rose.
A reader in England asks: “The book begins with several characters. Do I have to keep track of them all?”
Answer: No. Many of them are helping hands to launch the story lines and action. The first page, headlined "Cast, before the storm", lists the important characters in the first few chapters as the main themes emerge from different directions. In all there are eleven significant characters, as listed here. At each stage, as they come together, the king spider in the web, De Beaucourt, summarises the state of play. The main role is played by France herself; and the shadow of an opaque body called FIBOC also stalks the pages.
Several characters appear just once to set the stage at the beginning and at each big development of the story lines. They have walk-on parts to carry description, tension, and convergence of the plots. They are the figures of the human, social and emotional world surrounding the main actors who are otherwise enclosed in their own obsessions. A few of the minor players are re-introduced in the twists towards the dénouement.
The same reader, commenting as a woman, says: “The book seems to be written from the perspective of a man and plays down the emotional input, of the women in particular. Where’s the psychology and romance?”
Answer: Well, this is a key question which raises fundamental issues of approach, objectives and execution.
The main role is played by France and readers say that there is plenty of emotion, description and romance in the writing on that score. France is a great and beautiful country, but with arrows in her heart.
The central protagonist is Titus, a man locked up by suppressed guilt and shackled emotions. A large part of the story and his character development lies in his fight to face himself and his demons. He's been stunted by evil. In the second half he does begin to break the shell, but in a contained way in keeping with where he's come from.
His female counterpart is Delphine. She is also emotionally suppressed by trauma and a drive for justice. If there is a single “heroic” character, I think the part is played by Delphine. She has given herself a sacrificial role, rather in the style of Joan of Arc who is still today an iconic figure, triumphant on horseback in Paris, wielding sword and cross in churches in the south west of the country. Joan led a form of “crusade” to root out the evils of English occupation, was tried for heresy, and then burnt at the stake by the French in Rouen: a case of death for the messenger and revisionism of the message. There is maybe a moral in this today, and buried in these pages. Delphine, in playing out her strategy as a manipulative lady of the night, has to subjugate herself to carnal calculation in a high-risk “crusade” for justice. Also, by day and by profession, Delphine is a cold, calculating lawyer. Bythe end she too begins to break her shell, but she doesn’t hear voices! In a way, Titus and Delphine have been emotionally castrated by betrayal. They express emotion with movement rather than with thoughts and words.
As for Leila Kournov, she is also dedicated to an end of revenge in the public interest, and she too is too fearful of the past and present to think or speak for her emotions.
Kir and the Lizard have constructed alter-egos to bury their traumas.
All of the eleven significant characters are prisoners of betrayal by others or of their own weaknesses, or both. Much of their emotional unwrapping is implicit. This is deliberate. These are severely damaged and enclosed people; but maybe this was the wrong technique!
Perhaps I should have done more to explore the complexities of the emotional blackouts suffered by Kir and the Lizard who I think are important in terms of profound contemporary issues.
The book has been edited many times and in the early versions there was a good bit of male and female emotional flesh on the important characters. But James Finkenstaedt felt that this distracted from, and confused, the main theme of manipulation, revenge and redemption. He saw dramatic stories of abuse: abuse in the system, in the lives of Titus and Delphine and the others. He commented along these lines: “The film could well be made in black and white and shades of grey. The play of light in the telling is the key, and emotional insistence will change totally the issues you are getting at. The drama must speak for the emotion.” He kept repeating during all the years when he was building up my skills for the type of book I write: “Focus on the drama of the situation. In a thriller, action and reaction are the strongest expressions of motive and emotion. Let the colour, or here tones of grey, carry the feelings and inner thoughts; let the story, the action and dynamic dialogue of the characters, and the facts they face, do the preaching.”
However, as this reader suggests, there is another way of treating the subject, which is to focus on characterisation in all its dimensions, emotional, psychological and physical, and from within the male and female souls. Maybe that would be a better way. It would produce a different genre of novel.
A reader called Henry in London asks: “Who is Zeus?”
Answer: Zeus is the war-time code name for a patriarch from the French Resistance. He is living out his final days at the head of the remnants of his network from the Underground during the Occupation. Their mission is to uphold the high ideals of their youth and to pass them on to younger people, initiated into their secrets and dedicated to cleaning up the Republic. Zeus lays out the moral issue at the beginning. Later, the plot pushes this “old guard” beyond their role as mere mentors into being as active as their age permits.
All of the characters in Paris Night are inventions of imagination; however Zeus may be a composite figure loosely inspired by a student who founded one of the main Resistance newspapers and has left his mark on France in many ways in the years since World War II. In the book, there is reference to a member of his network, Dante, the codename for Lionel Dustac. He too may be a subconscious and composite creation inspired by the leader of an underground cell in Paris who rose to the highest levels in the French media. I knew them both well. The character called Radon personifies the high command of the Gaullist networks.
Henry also asks: “Is it the case in reality that there are still organizations working in France left over from the war-time Resistance?”
Answer:Many organisations with roots in the Resistance or the experience of Occupation exist and play a strong role in promoting their objectives, for example in supporting Resistants in their old age, in pursuing research or in ensuring that the experiences and lessons of that period are kept alive and passed on. These organisations are run by people who were children during the war or by people born since 1944, although old Resistants and survivors of deportation are involved.
The number of people committed to Resistance activities within France, of whatever political hue, was relatively small as was the number of those who joined De Gaulle abroad; but from their ranks emerged the leaders and administrators who laid down much of the architecture of the country today. Those who are still alive bore extraordinary responsibilities when they were students or even teenagers. Their networks of direct influence faded away in the 1990s; but they still have great moral standing. In private, they cannot be ignored. When they speak out in public, the nation hears. Stéphane Hessel, the author of a “Time for Outrage!” who died recently, was an example.
Not so long ago I attended a small private funeral for the head of a war-time Underground network. A woman in her late eighties, upright, elegant, strong and still with the lines of beauty from her youth, gave a spellbinding account of her life as a sixteen-year-old, tearing around the cobbled streets of Paris with messages hidden in her bicycle, of secret meetings, and of combat during the Liberation.
It is not difficult to see her re-living those days in this story, and handing down the flame.