The Officer's Prey
By Armand Cabasason
Cabasson, Armand. The Officer’s Prey. London: Gallic Books, 2007. ISBN:-13# 9781906040031. 424 Pages. Paperback. £7.95
This is the first book in the Quentin Margont Investigations series. It is 1812 and Quentin Margont is a captain in the 84th Line Infantry Regiment. The regiment is part of Delzon’s Division of the IV Corps, which is commanded by Prince Eugene. It is mid-June and while the captain's regiment is waiting to invade Russia , Margont is suddenly summoned by Prince Eugene. He is ordered to investigate a brutal murder of a Polish woman. Captain Margont is warned that his investigation must be discrete, because the initial reports indicate that the murder was committed by a senior officer. Since the only units in the area are part of the IV Corps, the prince is concerned that word of the murder will damage relations with the local populace and the Polish nation on the whole.
Captain Margont leaves the interview with the prince with a foreboding that he has not been told everything that he needs to know to conduct the investigation. He has keen powers of observation and soon discovers that the initial reports were correct. The most likely suspects are four colonels; three are regimental commanders, while the fourth is an acting brigade commander. His investigation further reveals that the murderer has killed before and his method of killing has become increasingly bizarre. Hampering his attempt to bring the murderer to justice is the realization that a false accusation or his identification of the killer who is politically well-connected, could lead to his own downfall or even death.
Margont is also a company commander and he must balance these duties with those of the investigation, further complicating matters. The story is filled with vignettes of his daily struggle to survive the rigors of a campaign in a desolate and hostile country, where every clump of trees may hide a Cossack that will kill him. His company is caught in skirmishes and partakes in the battles at Smolensk and Borodino – where the author is able to place Margont in the thick of the action at the Grand Redoubt. Captain Margont eventually unmasks the killer, but not before the killer strikes again several times. The author neatly ties up the story during the French army's great retreat from Moscow.
Armand Cabasson is a French psychiatrist who is a member of the Souvenir Napoleonien. He draws on his extensive knowledge of the era to create accurate portrayals of the time and people. The only historical inaccuracy I noticed in the story was in the names of the suspects. Since it is known who the real regimental commanders were at the time, rather than slander the actual historical individuals, the author chose to change their names.
The Officer’s Prey is entertaining and a quick read. The strength of the book lies in the author’s ability to draw vivid characters, while engaging the reader in the full horrors of the Russian Campaign. Recommended.
Reviewed by Robert Burnham
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