With his debut novel Salazar just released, Seth Lynch was kind enough to pop over to talk about the research which inspired his 1930’s Parisian setting…
The police in France in the 1930s had an interrogation technique which involved cuffing the suspect to a radiator and beating the hell out of them. I say the 1930s but I suspect they started using this method when the radiators were first installed and are probably still using it now. You wouldn’t necessarily know this from reading the memoirs of retired cops, although you get an inkling of it going on. The ones who were ending their careers around this period don’t mention violence too much, except when perpetrated by a criminal. In their books you’d imagine that the worst the cops ever did was raise their voices and serve cold coffee. The ones who started their careers around this time and ended them in the 1960s and 70s are more open about the beatings but it’s normally someone else dishing them out. I can’t read French that well so I have to rely on works in translation. It could be that the cops who describe the violence of their interrogations never had their memoirs translated to English.
There is another source for the beating up of suspects – the guys who received them. In their biographies/autobiographies there is no shortage of violence from the police. Their accounts, with the hints and suggestions in the police memoirs and from the films of the time, we get a pretty good idea of what the police did. Even Simenon’s gentle old Maigret used to get rough with suspects but he was another who left the room when the interrogations became more vigorous.
What’s the point in me telling you all this? It’s research. If you just read from one source you’ll never know what really went on. (OK, we never really know what went on we only get an approximation) Each autobiography is written by a person who wants to present themselves in a certain light. Maybe they’re writing to settle a grudge or, as some claim, to set the record straight. Others have political reasons for writing – maybe even literally, that they want to stand for office and think and account of their daring actions in the Sûreté or the Paris Police will win them support. Maybe those old cops who walked the beat during World War I didn’t think the occasional beating of a suspect as worthy of comment: what’s a bloodied face and a few lost teeth next to a million dead? For some I get the feeling that the beatings were part of the game – you commit the crimes and, if I catch you, I’m going to lay into you.
Once I’ve read from multiple sources I have enough of an idea to start out on my own. From here on I feel free to interpret events as I see fit. Maybe my cop will be one who relishes the violence, a perk of the job for a sadist in uniform. Maybe my union agitator will receive a bloody beating and will move on from organising strikes to planting bombs. I’ll decide as I write if the truth, as I see it, will be a part of the story or ignored (after all these are works of fiction not academic thesis) .
There are no cops in Salazar. There is a cop in Salazar 2, an Inspector Belmont. He’s a little like Maigret in that he’ll leave the room when the beatings are dished out only to return later when the suspect has been softened up. Belmont isn’t a bad man or a bad cop, he just accepts that the beatings are a part of police work. If you don’t like it you don’t have to be the one who does it, you can call in one of the other guys to handle that side of things for you. I’ve only written the first draft of Salazar 3 but he does get cuffed to a radiator. He already knows Belmont from the previous book and has gone under cover for him in this one. It’s a cover the other police know nothing about – hence the cuffing. There is no beating though as Belmont intercedes and takes Salazar away for questioning.
When coming up with the character of Belmont I wasn’t sure where he’d work or who for. The police system in France has been overhauled a few times since the 1930s. Back then there were the Gendarmerie, who acted as the local police in the French regions. There was the Sûreté who acted on cases which crossed the regions of France – in some ways like the FBI. Paris didn’t have a Gendarmerie instead they had the Préfecture of Police of Paris – the Paris Police. The Sûreté were based in Paris and, as you might expect, so were the Paris Police. And they were pretty much rivals. I get the idea that they’d rather see a criminal go free than see the other agency get the credit for an arrest. They weren’t above sending each other on wild goose chases so they could reap the glory of an arrest. A book by Roger Borniche called Le Flic portrays this rivalry quiet well. He was in the Sûreté so you see it from their perspective.
Police brutality and inter-force rivalries and not a real surprise. One thing I hadn’t expected was a punishment they used to dish out – banishment from Paris. It feels like something from ancient Greece or Rome rather than twentieth century France. The threat of this was often enough to turn a petty crook into a police informer. This happens in the film Bob le Flambeur (Bob the Gambler) which came out in 1955. I get the impression that the police relied on informers for most of their information. I suppose that’s what happens when you don’t have computers.
Anyway, I’m starting to waffle now so I’ll stop. Thanks to Eva for letting me loiter on her blog today. And thanks to you for reading this far. If you want to read more why not head over to Amazon and buy a copy of Salazar? Or you could head over to my blog at http://salazarbooks.com/