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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

SALAMANDER is the ninth J. Robert Janes mystery featuring Inspector Jean-Louis St.-Cyr of the Surete and Hermann Kohler of the Gestapo. They are just professionals doing their jobs, worrying little about politics but wondering if the end of the war will find them enemies. Other French and German officials, including the notorious Klaus Barbie, try to hinder the investigation, but Louis and Hermann will let nothing, including a manipulative bishop, keep them from the truth.

The arson case, absolutely crammed with red herrings, soon becomes more complicated when some individual murders follow the disaster. Are the events related? Were the theater victims truly attending a showing of a Jean Renoir film, or was a meeting of the French underground taking place? Who are the two women several witnesses suspect of starting the fire? Are both of them really women? What was the role of the priest who died in the fire? Louis and Hermann place their careers and lives on the line to answer all these questions.

Janes writes in an elliptical style that occasionally makes following his complicated plot difficult. A group of characters will be having a long conversation when another character the reader did not know was even present will speak out. The police will be interrogating a suspect, and suddenly a few paragraphs later, they will be going elsewhere to look for him. Janes’ heroes seem to be only superficially different versions of the same character. The main virtue of SALAMANDER, beyond its original premise, is the portrait of wartime France. Insular, gossipy, petty Lyon is Janes’ most vivid character.