A Dwarf Kingdom by Nicolas Freeling
A Dwarf KingdomHenri Castang has worked for the Police Judiciaire for thirty years. He is on the brink of retirement. He was shuffled off to a post in Brussels after crossing the wrong people politically. Although French, he has learned to think more like a citizen of Europe.
He and his wife are visiting another couple just before his retirement when the unimaginable happens and the other couple die. There was nothing he could do to prevent what happens that evening. His retirement is rushed through.
He and Vera, his wife, travel down to Biarritz, near Spain, for his health. As his treatments finish, they visit and help an old friend and work colleague of his who is dying. After his death, he leaves the house on the cliffs overlooking the ocean to Vera. The Castangs now have a retirement home. A developer approaches them about selling the property, but Castang declines the offer.
At Christmas his daughter and family come to visit. This is the first time the Castangs have met either their granddaughter or the baby’s father. The visit goes well until another catastrophe strikes the family. Now Castang has to work with the skills and contacts he still has to put his family back together – if that is even possible.
A Dwarf Kingdom was difficult for me to read. Yet I couldn’t put it down and walk away either. It’s the last book of a series, so Castang and his wife have been established characters for many years. Nicolas Freeling brings many of the past events in their lives back out in this novel. Their lives haven’t been easy, giving the book a dark, almost despairing feel from the beginning.
This novel was written in French for the European readers. I could easily compare it to something by Les Roberts, perhaps. It’s written in current slang and vernacular (of the mid-1990’s). So I had to deal with the translation and the completely different culture. I know that Europeans think differently than us Americans. But I got the feeling from A Dwarf Kingdom that everything is dark, all police are corrupt, crime is rampant, and nothing is clean from taint. I never could determine if that is the culture, the way Freeling saw his world, or how the character of Castang sees the world.
Then there is Nicolas Freeling’s writing style. Although not stream of consciousness, the book often jumps around in the same style. There are incomplete thoughts, sections started that don’t seem to relate to anything that has happened before, forward jumping and back tracking. Although there is action in this novel, it’s more thoughts and feelings.
Perhaps I was fascinated by this book the way a person is drawn to an accident. I didn’t want to read it yet I still needed to know what was going to happen. The culture portrayed is something that is beyond my understanding (the pun – the culture is foreign to me…). I finally decided that the writing style was Freeling’s, not the way all French authors would write. In the past, the French books I’ve read have been more classic or dealing with a historical event already played through. This is the first time that I can recall that I’ve read something current and for escapism rather than for “literature”.
Will I read another book in this series? I’d like to know more about Castang, that’s for certain. But I’ll have to think about it before I read another one. We’ll see.
The mystery in The Dwarf Kingdom keeps the reader’s interest. From what I can tell, the dwarves are the rich people who pull the strings in Europe and ignore the rest of the masses except to use them. It’s politics as usual, which is unnerving.
Notice: Non-graphic violence