In a sleepy French village, the body of a man shot through the head is disinterred by the roots of a fallen tree. A week later a famous art critic is viciously murdered in a nearby house. The deaths occurred more than seventy years apart.
Asked by a colleague to inspect the site of the former, forensics expert Enzo Macleod quickly finds himself embroiled in the investigation of the latter. Two extraordinary narratives are set in train – one historical, unfolding in the treacherous wartime years of Occupied France; the other contemporary, set in the autumn of 2020 as France re-enters Covid lockdown.
And Enzo’s investigations reveal an unexpected link between the murders – the Mona Lisa.
Tasked by the exiled General Charles de Gaulle to keep the world’s most famous painting out of Nazi hands after the fall of France in 1940, 28-year-old Georgette Pignal finds herself swept along by the tide of history. Following in the wake of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa as it is moved from château to château by the Louvre, she finds herself just one step ahead of two German art experts sent to steal it for rival patrons – Hitler and Göring.
What none of them know is that the Louvre itself has taken exceptional measures to keep the painting safe, unwittingly setting in train a fatal sequence of events extending over seven decades.
Events that have led to both killings.
The Night Gate spans three generations, taking us from war-torn London, the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, Berlin and Vichy France, to the deadly enemy facing the world in 2020. In his latest novel, Peter May shows why he is one of the great contemporary writers of crime fiction.
- Publisher : riverrun (Quercus)
- Available in ebook, audio, hardback (18 March 2021) | paperback (5 August 2021)
- 496 pages
My thanks to Sophie of Midas PR for the tour invitation and for providing the extract. Peter May has a series of online book events arranged (details of which are available on his events page on www.maypeter.com – tonight is with Sheffield Library 6.30 – 7.30pm. To book tickets for tonight’s free event here’s the link https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-night-gate-in-conversation-with-peter-may-tickets-136959562739 There are further online events arranged for 24 – 26 March with At Home with 4 Indies, Griffin Books and Toppings, Edinburgh.
She glared at the driver. ‘You’re late.’
His grin widened. ‘Feisty one, aren’t you? They can be a bit rough, them crossings. Never know when the ferry’s going to arrive.’
He crunched into first gear, manoeuvred his truck through a three-point turn, and pulled out on to the road, turning hard left and over the narrow spit of land dividing inner and outer harbours. The inner harbour was packed with trawlers and small fishing vessels sitting cheek by jowl on a high tide and towering over the quayside. Beyond water that reflected a pewtery sky, a hill rose darkly into darker trees, and the lights of a forbidding-looking building emerged from the shadow of the hillside, fighting to penetrate the murk.
The driver lowered his head to look up at it. ‘Lews Castle,’ he said. ‘That’s where you’re staying.’
‘Is that where you’re stationed?’
‘No, we’re at the RAF base out towards Point.’ And he flicked his head vaguely to the west. Then he snuck a glance in her direction. ‘I thought you was French. They said you was. And here’s me practising my parlez-vous anglais.’
‘Sorry to disappoint.’
He grinned. ‘Not disappointed at all, love. Whatever nationality you is.’
And in spite of herself she blushed. ‘So what’s at the castle?’ she said quickly to cover her embarrassment.
‘They got wounded soldiers convalescing in one wing of it.
Some of them off the beaches at Dunkirk. Nurses live in, apparently. Some RAF brass based up there, too, and a training school of some kind. Though they don’t tell us nothing about that.’
They rumbled through the deserted town, following the curve of the inner harbour, past feebly lit shop windows below a skyline broken by church spires. ‘Where is everybody?’ Georgette asked.
Her driver said, ‘Would you go out on a day like this if you didn’t have to?’ He half turned and responded to her glare with a wink. ‘Mind you, I been here three months and the weather don’t ever get much better than this.’
They left the inner harbour behind them then before turning left, and climbing a narrow road through trees that delivered them eventually to the back of the castle. The driver brought his truck to a shuddering halt and he leaned on his horn for a good three seconds.
‘That’s you, love.’ He reached past her to push open the passenger door. ‘See you around.’
Not if I see you first, Georgette thought.
As he accelerated noisily away, a young soldier who clearly didn’t relish being out in the rain emerged from a back door. Yellow electric light fell feebly from ground-floor windows to be snuffed out by even feebler daylight.
‘Miss Pig Nall?’ he called.
‘Peenyaall,’ she corrected him phonetically.
‘You follow me, miss.’ And he turned abruptly back inside.
No formalities, not even an offer to carry her case.
She sighed and hurried after him, through vast kitchens, where white-aproned staff flitted from steaming pot to steaming pot, appetising smells issuing forth to fill the air with delicious condensation that ran down the windows. Georgette’s stomach growled. It had been empty for a long time now but was not, she feared, destined to be satisfied any time soon.
She followed the soldier out into a long hallway that ran the length of the building. She dripped rainwater on to its shiny floor and hurried through elaborately corniced archways, trying to keep up. He turned on to a broad staircase that took them then through several floors to a labyrinthine attic. At the end of a narrow corridor he stopped and opened a door into a tiny room with a sloping ceiling and small dormer window. ‘This is yours. Toilet’s at the other end of the hall. Briefing downstairs in fifteen minutes.’
‘Wait a minute, I’m soaked to the skin. I need to wash and get changed. I can’t possibly do it in fifteen minutes.’
He was unmoved. ‘Fifteen minutes, miss.’ And he brushed past her to head back along the way they had come.
She turned to gaze with sinking heart into the room that was to be hers for who knew how long. Drab, colourless, utiltarian furniture. Cold green linoleum, and a wallpaper whose pattern was so faded and dull it was barely a memory. Her window looked out across a flat roof to crenellations beyond, the inner harbour almost lost in the mist a long way below. She threw her suitcase on to the bed and sat down beside it, hands clutched miserably in her lap. Rusted springs groaned beneath a lumpy mattress and she wondered what the hell she was doing here.
The same private who had taken her to her room showed Georgette into a small salon off the main ballroom which, he told her, was now being used as a dining room. Their evening meal would be served at five.
The salon was arranged with half a dozen chairs grouped around a blackboard on a tripod, two windows along one side giving out on to a view of the town below. Four young women, seated around a burly non-commissioned officer standing at the blackboard, turned curious heads in her direction as the door opened. The women gazed at her with unglazed interest. As the door closed behind her again, the NCO cocked his head to one side, a sarcastic smile playing around pale lips. ‘The late Miss Pig Nall, I take it.’ His sarcasm was very nearly lost in an almost unintelligible Geordie accent.
‘Pignal,’ she corrected him. ‘And if I hadn’t been left standing in the rain for half an hour I wouldn’t have been late.’ Which elicited some stifled giggles from the others.
The NCO silenced them with a look and folded his arms. ‘Is that so? And I suppose you just had to change, and repair your make-up?’
‘I’m here now,’ she said sullenly.
‘Yes, you are. Though God knows why.’
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter May is the multi award-winning author of: the Lewis Trilogy set in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland; | the China Thrillers, featuring Beijing detective Li Yan and American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell; | the Enzo Files, featuring Scottish forensic scientist Enzo MacLeod, which is set in France.
He has also written several standalone books: I’ll Keep You Safe (January 2018, Riverrun) | Entry Island (January 2014, Quercus UK) | Runaway (January 2015, Quercus UK) | Coffin Road (January 2016, Riverrun)
May had a successful career as a television writer, creator, and producer.
One of Scotland’s most prolific television dramatists, he garnered more than 1000 credits in 15 years as scriptwriter and script editor on prime-time British television drama. He is the creator of three major television drama series and presided over two of the highest-rated serials in his homeland before quitting television to concentrate on his first love, writing novels.
Born and raised in Scotland he lives in France.