Reginald Hill is an author usually known for his crime novels. His books are favourites of mine and I consider a couple of his novels to be among the best crime novels ever written (On Beulah Height and The Wood Beyond particularly). This book appears to be a departure for him because it is not a crime novel and is set in occupied Paris during the 1940s.
The Collaborators is a novel about how people reacted to the occupation. It centres on Janine, a young woman married to a Jewish man with two children. Her parents own a bakery and this is frequented by a German intelligence officer. When Janine’s husband is in danger it is to Gunther Mai that she turns and he begins to enmesh her in his network of informers. As the war continues she needs his help more and more but at the end of the war she will have to pay a price for this.
The book follows a number of French characters and looks at their attitude to collaboration and to resistance. It is obvious from the beginning that people have different motives for what they do and that nothing is straightforward. It is also obvious that not all the Germans are evil and that some really believe that they are creating a better world. In this atmosphere of emotion, betrayal, fear and rapidly changing situations the author weaves a very personal story of one woman and her efforts to protect the things that she loves.
This is an excellent story and cleverly woven together. The book is full of tension and you really don’t know what is going to happen to some characters. It shows the fragility of freedom during the occupation and the increasing brutality of the regime. It doesn’t spare the French either, clearly showing that many were part of what was happening but others were resisters. The only thing I would comment on is that the author used the same plot device, peril to Janine’s children, twice in much the same way and you do have to wonder why she made the decisions she did about not keeping the children with her and devoting herself to her husband.
The scenes at the end were particularly powerful and even if something was a little unlikely the book has a very satisfactory ending.
This will be my last book in July’s 12 in 12 Challenge and it ends the selection of books about two world wars very nicely.