Just published with riverrun, The Night Gate by Peter May is a book born out of the Covid-19 pandemic. Enzo McLeod, the main character of The Enzo Files, and now retired, has been resurrected for one last bite of the cherry, so to speak, mixing the historical with the contemporary in this novel that has been described as ‘the razor-sharp finale’ to the series.
The birth of The Night Gate has a fascinating story behind it that even Peter May had not anticipated. The book he was supposed to be publishing involved some intense research that would take him to the Arctic Circle and onto some very exciting sailing trips involving melting glaciers and the international research station at Ny-Ålesund in Norway. But the chaos of Coronavirus soon put paid to all this and Peter May had to rethink. Living in France, confined by the various lockdowns and restrictions, he recalled an exhibition in the town hall of a local village near his home. Its subject was the artwork that had been protected from the Nazi occupation in Paris during the Second World War. These works of art, including The Mona Lisa, were kept at the Château de Montal but all the work from the Louvre could not be accommodated there and other additional premises were used for storage. Peter May made the incredible discovery that he actually owned one of the buildings used. He hadn’t at the time considered this discovery for a plot in one of his books but when he found himself in lockdown the seed germinated and the premise for The Night Gate was born.
Peter May decided to mix fact with fiction, the historical and the contemporary, using actual people and true events from the past to create a fascinating ‘what if?’ tale. Awakening his character Enzo MacLeod, now retired from his work in forensics, Peter May set about intertwining a dual line story of espionage, intrigue and murder. Making an executive decision Peter May decided to incorporate the current pandemic into the narrative, something which was strange to read yet was also comfortably familiar in many ways.
The discovery of a body buried in a small village brings Enzo MacLeod to the scene. An archaeological acquaintance asks a favour of MacLeod to look at the area and to give his thoughts on what he finds. When he arrives, the village is suffering a fresh trauma after the murder of an out-of-town business man in the home of a local. MacLeod is recognised by the local police who quickly request his assistance. The initial scene reveals a case that appears relatively straight forward. A suspect is identified and is on the run but where is the connection and why? In the meantime it is revealed that the historical victim is wearing a uniform dating from the Nazi regime, a member of the party shot and hidden under pipes never to be discovered but for a tree rotting at its roots and pulling away from the earth revealing its treasure to all.
Two unrelated bodies in one small village. What secrets does this village hold? Although retired MacLeod is intrigued and, with his tenacious and investigative approach to a case, he begins to unravel the complexities of this sorry mess. Through the voice of a elderly resident, the reader is catapulted back to the war years and the Occupation, when the French people feared for their lives, when neighbours became enemies and when the greed of the German officialdom was clear for all to see. Peter May takes his reader to Hitler’s Berghof and Göring’s Carinhill. We become acquainted with Rose Valland, an art gallery curator who, through meticulous recording, managed to track down much of the Nazi commandeered art after the war and return it to its rightful home. References are made to an incident in Saint-Céré where civilians were saved from a massacre due to the persistence of a resident. There are many such insightful and factual historic events that are seamlessly intertwined into The Night Gate adding to its authenticity and to the compelling nature of the plot.
Georgette Pignal is our heroine in The Night Gate. Fluent in French, she proves useful to the British spy network and is sent into Paris to protect the Mona Lisa at any cost, after it becomes evident that Hitler wants it for his museum that he plans to build in Austria. But Göring evidently also wants it for his private collection. Neither want to be seen as thieves so they need it obtained in a moderated and unsuspecting fashion. Georgette soon finds herself caught up in this madness and the fear for her life becomes very real indeed.
MacLeod unearths some interesting information that leads him to suspect that both victims are in some way linked but first he needs to find the evidence. Curtailed by Covid restrictions he uses the resources available to him, one very personal that has a deep impact on his well being.
The Night Gate is a highly enjoyable page-turner with a very gripping plot that weaves back and forth between the 1940s and the present day. Enzo MacLeod is a brilliantly depicted character and we get a closer look at his own personal relationships with both others and himself.
A very engaging and intriguing read, The Night Gate captures the imagination with an ingenious concept at its core regarding Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. On completion the reader will be compelled to read further on this subject, which adds an extra layer to this riveting tale of secrecy and murder.
(c) Swirl and Thread
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