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The Resistance: A Thriller (A Louis Morgon Thriller)
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2012
I read this wonderful novel shortly after finishing Mission to Paris by Alan Furst, who is far better known than Steiner. Both books are set in France during World War II, but The Resistance by Steiner is far more ambitious, nuanced and complex. Although technically also a thriller, it transcends the genre and takes on large moral issues that linger in a reader's mind. The suspense doesn't start building till the third chapter or so, but I got so absorbed in it that I didn't want it to end. The story is very atmospheric, conveying the deadly and wrenching nature of daily life under enemy occupation. It follows a set of ordinary French villagers forced to resist or collaborate with their new Nazi rulers. The characters face successive dilemmas and get swept up in dangerous events, sometimes taking sides by default rather than choice. The mysteries of the plot are bound up with the moral ambiguities of the situation in which these hapless characters find themselves. Which side is each person on? Can you trust your oldest friends? Not all resistance fighters are noble. Not all Nazis, or people who consort with them, are evil. Who are the real heroes, in the novel and in life? As you reach the end of the story, there's a succession of breathtaking, but completely plausible, surprises.

The Resistance is a real find - civilized, well paced and important. I loved it.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 23, 2012
In recent months, it seems I have stumbled across a number of novels dealing with early World War II events. The Resistance is another and I would certainly put this one at the top of my list.

I am unfamiliar with other novels written my the author, but apparently Louis Morgon is a former CIA operative who leaves the organization to relocate to France. Morgon is a reoccuring character in Steiner's novels, but in this case, he plays a lesser role since the tale revolves around Morgon's discovery of a box beneath the floorboards of an old farm house he is renovating. Finding sketchy details in papers within the box, Morgon approaches the constable of the French village called Saint-Leon in hopes of discovering more information as to why the box was hidden in the first place. Coincidentally, policeman Jean Renard's father happened to be constable of the village during the war and he is named in the paper. Morgon thinks Renard might also be curious in the box and approaches him for assistance in uncovering its history.

At this point the story reverts to the early years of the war when France is over-run by the German army and people come to grips with their new occupiers. Slowly Steiner presents us with details of the war and the people it affected.

The book is appealing on several levels. Steiner obviously loves France. His presentation regarding the countryside and the people living there makes it easy to imagine sitting at a local cafe and flavoring the croussants, smelling the flowers and fresh-cut hay, and watching villagers ride by on their bicycles. Part of the joy of reading this book was Steiner's concised, but not overblown, details surrounding the small village of Saint-Leon-sur-Deme.

Readers expecting a rousing WWII thriller won't find it here. Instead the book focuses on the events occuring in a small village and the unplanned, but steady evolution of a resistance that became more prevalent as the war expanded. France's deeply personal conflict between fascism, socialism and a conflicted French government is presented from a common-man's view and presented quite well.

The book includes all the requisite characters: the mayor, the city council, the constable, the priest, the school teacher, the local gossip, etc., but it also presents the slowly unraveling events of Europe's conquest that Americans never experienced: fear of the notorious Gestapo, rising hate towards Jews and Gypsies, uncertainly towards one neighbor. This is a thriller of the mind, and readers will be drawn into the characters, the location and the details of harrowing events early in the war. He wraps the conclusion in an interesting and logical manner, and frankly he has peaked my interest in reading more Louis Morgon tales. This a far more harrowing tale of war on the battlefield.. it is a tale of personal conquest and how people deal with major disruptions in the beliefs and their lives.

Grab a pastry, a beverage of choice, and enjoy a well-written, most entertaining story.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
In 1974, Secretary of State fires CIA espionage agent Louis Morgon after lecturing the field operative for incompetency and probably being a traitor. Stunned, Louis loses his wife and two children when they leave him as his spouse says he has become a withdrawn stranger to them. Despondent, he goes to France to live.

Morgon purchases a fixer-upper in Saint-Leon-sur-Dême. During the renovation he finds hidden documents and pistols tied to the French resistance in a crawl space under the floorboards. Believing a crime was committed during the Nazi occupation, Morgon brings the cache to his friend police officer Jean Renard. The gendarme feels personally affected as his father had the identical job as the letter writer under the Vichy puppet regime. Increasingly Morgon and Renard believe someone betrayed the resistance during WWII.

This is a superb Louis Morgon thriller (see L'Assassin and The Terrorist), which raises questions about war crimes, patriotism and survival when an occupied army controls your country. Ironically, Morgon plays less of a role than usual as he is more the second banana catalyst enabling readers to learn what happened in WWII France. Instead characters from the 1940s like Simon the Berlin Jewish French resistance leader, marvelous Marie and Nazis with hearts make this a winner as war is hell on everyone except fat cat chicken hawks.

Harriet Klausner
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2013
I read this book after meeting the author at a dinner party. He is a charming, intelligent and unassuming man. He didn't push the book, but spoke knowledgeably about the French Resistance during the dark days of World War II. I think that critics who complain because it is not a conventional mystery are missing the point. Steiner is doing something different here, throwing his spy hero Morgon into a historical situation to see if he can make sense of it.

I liked the book because it does not come up with easy answers. As Steiner and I had discussed at the dinner, you never know how people are going to react under pressure, and that is one of the main themes of the book. During the days of the German occupation of France apparently patriotic Frenchmen were secretly in league with the Nazis. Apparent collaborators were actually saving the lives of their fellow countrymen and women. The book portrays this with telling effect. I read the whole book in a couple of days. It was gripping and thoughtful.

Interestingly it takes a different tack from many artworks that deal with the same era. For instance, I love the seldom shown movie, Kingdom of Shadows, about the French Resistance, with a very positive portrait of one of my all time heros, Jean Moulin, the driving force of the Resistance whose grave can be visited in the Pantheon in Paris. The Film is great, but has no moral ambiguity. Moulin and the Resistance fighters are good, the Nazis are horrible, and there is no room for anything or one in between. This book however shows how difficult it can be to wager your life when your odds of survival might be better if you only stayed quiet.

But what kind of world would it be if we all did that?

On the other hand, Peter Steiner's characters show us that the choice to risk personal safety for a wider and less personal good is not an easy one to make. Their essential and truthful if imperfect humanity makes this book a very worthwhile read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2013
I came across this book on the recommendation of one of the reviewers (Covatta) and was pleasantly surprised to find that the author and I share the same high school (Walnut Hills).
I have been reading a number of espionage thrillers that occur before, during and immediately after WWII. This was not quite the "thriller" advertised on the cover, but as I got deeper into the book, it became an extraordinary novel about the incredible ambiguities of war; ordinary people thrown into events absolutely beyond their control, dealing with situations that have no right or wrong resolution and moral dilemmas that have no answers.
I agonize over how I would have reacted if I were forced to confront these life and death circumstances.

Parts of this book reminded me of Scott Turow's wonderful book - "Ordinary Heroes"; much of this book shed some light on my parents and grandparents, who immigrated to the US after surviving the war in Europe; they were young people, much like many of the charcaters in the book; they also did not like to talk about the unspeakable horrors that they endured.

The book is well written, richly develops the characters and paints a detailed picture of one of history's dark hours.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2012
This is my third Steiner book and the best so far. Louis Morgon buys an old house in a small village in France and discovers papers and things hidden under the floor boards when he is remodeling it.

What went on the the village during WWII when Germany occupied France is the main part of the book. I loved the way the people are presented. We learn just enough about them.

This is a great book for someone wanting to know what happens to ordinary citizens during war time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2012
The action all happened during WWII --- but the detective work happened 30 years later. The surprising thing is that the author raises your ire about that long-ago outrage (no, not the Final Solution) that you itch to see the perps brought to justice even though most of them are old and grey. A good book, intelligently written.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
We begin in the Nixon era, with CIA agent Louis Morgon suddenly being axed from his job. Knocked for a loop, he leaves his life behind and moves to a small village, Saint-Léon-sur-Dême, in France. While fixing up the decrepit cottage he's purchased, he finds a cache of weapons and French Resistance pamphlets. He takes them to Saint-Léon's lone gendarme, young Jean Renard. Renard has lived in Saint-Léon all his life, and his father, Yves, was the village's gendarme during World War II.

Yves Renard, like many other villagers, won't talk about the war. Jean Renard has heard rumors that Yves was a collaborator; that as a gendarme he did the bidding of the occupiers. Helping Louis investigate the cache provides Jean with an opportunity to delve into the history of Saint-Léon in wartime, and a present-day murder breaches the villagers' wall of silence about the war.

After a brief couple of chapters introducing us to Louis Morgon, Jean Renard and the finding of the cache, we are transported back to the war and the story of Saint-Léon's residents. We meet the village's mayor and councilmen, Yves Renard, young farmers Onesime and Jean, and their mother Anne-Marie, the widow Troppard, Count Maurice de Beaumont and his wife Alexandre and many other locals, as well as a shadowy Resistance organizer code-named Simon. The villagers take sides in a secret and deadly game of chess; one where a player can't be sure whether the others are playing black or white--or maybe both.

The subtitle "A Thriller" is a little misleading and may do this book a disservice. Although there is plenty of intrigue and tension in the plot, it's no bang-bang, action-driven story. The focus is on the secrets and lies forced upon the villagers by the occupation, the moral compromises they must make, and the effect these have on their relationships with their neighbors and loved ones. The pace is measured and deliberate. We have time to watch the seasons pass; to see birth, death and rebirth.

From a historical viewpoint, this is an insightful treatment of the development of resistance. After France was so quickly defeated, most hoped that life could go on as before. Many were eager to cooperate with the occupiers; at least the occupation ensured that the communists would not take over, they thought. Others had political and moral convictions that led them to resist from the start. The immediate resisters-from-conviction and unreflective collaborators are not Steiner's focus. He shows us, instead, ordinary people and the difficult individual choices they make. This is a subtle and sympathetic treatment of the moral complexities of life under occupation.

Recommended for readers who enjoyed Martin Walker's Bruno, Chief of Police and Sebastian Faulks's Charlotte Gray.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2012
I can't immediately think of a better premise for a novel than the one Peter Steiner found: "I invented two young men and put them in dire circumstances."

"Dire" hardly covers it. Think about it: One of the brothers, Onesime Josquin, is a rifleman standing fruitless duty on the Maginot Line as the Germans sweep around it, destroying the French army in the process. He leaves his post and walks home to the small Loire village of Saint-Léon-sur-Dême, to his mother Anne Marie and his brother Jean. Soon Germans are building a logistics depot in the caves where wine has been stored for generations. The village is occupied.

Onesime and Jean start as small-time résistants. As they go about their daily routine -- Onesime as farmhand for the local noble, Jean in a bicycle shop -- they develop layer upon layer of useful information about their new occupiers. Onesime begins by drawing detailed maps. Jean collects order-of-battle information, although he goes on to other, darker pursuits. Neither has much of an idea what he will do with it until the mysterious Simon comes into their life. Their mother, unknown to them, is doing the same. And so, as we learn only at the end, are others.

Their initial floundering and confusion resolves itself into clear, hard action, but not before there is much loss of life and a great deal of doubt about the morality of what they and their fellow townspeople are doing. But one of the best features of The Resistance is that there is not a lot of agonizing over the morality of resisting openly, resisting surreptitiously, collaborating, or -- the point of the book -- some mix of all.

For example: The local beauty lost her husband to the Germans in World War I but falls in love with the first commander at Saint-Léon -- who meets a bad end at the hands of his own side. She's clearly a collaborator, isn't she? The next German officer thinks so, up until the last instant of his life, when she turns into the paramour from hell.

The Resistance is the most recent in Steiner's delightful Louis Morgon series, stories about an American intelligence operative who, after disgrace and divorce, and finds his own redemption through a long walk from Paris more or less along the pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela. There he reaches the final decision that his future lies in Saint-Léon, a place he's spent only one night. The old house he buys hasn't been lived in since before the war, and under its crumbling floor he finds the package that provides the key to this story. Two keys, actually.

I highly recommend that you also read A French Country Murder (A Louis Morgon Thriller) for Morgon's back story. You'll understand his life and disgrace much better. (It was also published as Le Crime (A Louis Morgon Thriller). Both are available on Amazon.)

The Resistance is billed as a thriller, and it has many of the thriller's traits. Read it for the exciting tale of resistance, bravery, love and death -- that's why I started it. Steiner presented it at the American Library in Paris two years ago and I first read it after I heard and met him. I went back to it recently, and it was on second reading that I fully understood it was more than just a thriller. It's a philosophical treatise, and it will make you think. How would any of us react under the circumstances Onesime and Jean (and their mother, and the local gendarme, and the mayor, plus many others) found themselves facing?

Jean-Paul Sartre summed it up pithily in his Paris under the Occupation: "The maquisards, our pride, refused to work for the enemy; but it was necessary for the peasants, if they wanted to feed them, to continue to grow beets, half of which went to Germany."

Peter Steiner lives part of the year in rural France, and his knowledge of the countryside is evident. His next Louis Morgon thriller is scheduled for publication in Spring 2015. See the author interview on PartTimeParisian.com

He took to novels later in life, as you'll see from the interview, after a long career as a cartoonist at The New Yorker and other places. His New Yorker cartoon captioned, "On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're a Dog" is the most-reproduced cartoon in the magazine's history. He holds a Ph.D. in German history.
He was the subject of the most recent Part-Time Parisian author interview.
--

The Resistance: A Thriller (A Louis Morgon Thriller) [Kindle Edition] 319 pp. Minotaur Books (August 21, 2012)
$7.59. Also available in hardcover. It can be purchased on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and this review has been posted on both sites.

--

I'm the author of Treasure of Saint-Lazare, a novel of Paris, which was a #25 best-selling Kindle historical mystery. A sequel, whose working title is Last Stop: Paris, will be published late this year.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
"Defend the poor and fatherless;
Do justice to the afflicted and needy." -- Psalm 82:3 (NKJV)

This story may not be what you expect. It opens as Louis Morgon is ousted from the CIA. He goes into a downward spiral ... only to recover by moving to rural France. In Morgon's new home, he finds some unexpected materials. Fascinated, Morgon enlists help from Renard, a French policeman, to learn more.

From there, the story moves into the past, telling the story of how the village had coped with being occupied by Germans during World War II. The events develop in ways that present ambiguities that aren't explained until the story's end. So there are mysteries here for the reader, in addition to mysteries for Morgon.

It's an entertaining story that will lift you with its hopefulness.

I thought the story had a drawback in that the plot was developed a bit too neatly. As such, there's an element of a fairy tale feeling ... rather than of utter realism.

The story's great strength is that it captures the perspective well of what it's like to be occupied by an enemy nation.
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