“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.”
Hello and welcome to damppebbles. Today I am delighted to be kicking off The Night Gate blog tour alongside the fabulous The Book Magnet. The Night Gate is the seventh and final book in Peter May’s The Enzo Files series and will be published later this week on 18th March 2021 in hardcover, audio and digital formats by Riverrun.
To celebrate the books release I am thrilled to be sharing the prologue with you today. So pull up a comfy chair, put the kettle on and enjoy…
Emile Narcisse is pleased by his appearance. Vanity has always been a weakness. Where, perhaps, others see him as just another old man, he still perceives himself as the young Emile whose smile won hearts, whose blue-eyed looks turned heads. And after all, sixty-five is not so old. Vintage. Like a good wine, some men just get better with age.
Were he not so focused on his reflection in the mirror as he adjusts his tie and straightens his collar, he might have been able to look beyond it and see the certainty of death that lies in wait. But pride and greed blind him to his fate.
He has chosen a room at the back of the hotel with a view of the river.
Or, rather, its black slow-moving backwater broken only by the reflection of trees on the sliver of island beyond. On the far side of the island the River Dordogne, swollen by recent rains, makes a stately but more rapid progress towards the Atlantic two hundred and fifty kilometres to the west. But it is dark now, and he can see nothing beyond the glass.
He glances at his watch. Time to go. He feels a tiny, excited frisson of anticipation. But also doubt. Is it really possible that fate could have sent such good fortune his way? It is hard to believe. And, yet, here he is.
Floorboards creak softly beneath his shoes as he descends lightly to reception. The hotel is quiet, the tourist season a distant memory. A notice on the counter reminds customers that the hotel will be closed in just a few weeks for a full month. The annual congés . It will reopen in December in time for Christmas and la nouvelle année , if indeed Covid will allow for a celebration of either.
Narcisse glances through double French windows that open into the restaurant. Empty tables beneath cold yellow light, the chill October night pressing darkly against windows all along the far side. Not yet seven-thirty. Too early for the French to dine. But on his return he expects to eat, and crack open a celebratory bottle of Bordeaux. A car passes in the street outside. He drops his key on the counter, pleased that there is no one around requiring him to wear his mask. He fingers it in his pocket, glad to keep it there. He detests the damn thing, stuffy and claustrophobic. Yet, he knows, it is a significant barrier against the virus. And at his age he cannot afford to take any risks.
He does not see the man sitting in the bar, face obscured by a local newspaper, a half-drunk beer on the table in front of him. But as Narcisse steps out into the frosted air, the solitary drinker lowers his paper, rising to cross quickly to a door that leads to the terrace. From here he watches the art dealer make his way towards the palisade, breath billowing in the street lights. Anger burgeons in this man’s breast, a seething rage close to boiling point. The duplicitous peacock has no idea that Bauer is even here. Bauer knows he is not expected for another thirty minutes.
But he knows, too, that beyond the gate opposite, a path will lead him through a garden straight to the top of the hill, where another gate will provide direct access to the terrace at the side of her house.
Narcisse turns left at the post office, before he reaches the palisade.
Above it, the château cuts a shadow against the starlit sky, and Narcisse shivers, pulling his collar closer to his neck. Medieval shuttered stone dwellings crowd him on either side, reducing the sky to a ribbon of black overhead. The icy air is almost heady with the sweet-smoke smell of autumn oak, the cold of it burning his nostrils.
Where the road opens out left and right, the gate to the small park at the top of the hill lies open. Some work in progress near the war monument has been taped off, and Narcisse sees the thin strip of plastic catch light from the street lamps as it flutters gently in the cold air that snakes through these fifteenth-century streets. But before he reaches the park he turns off to climb the long flight of stone steps to the house that overlooks it. A small covered landing at the door lies in shadow. He pauses and takes a deep breath before slipping on his mask, as if to hide his identity. This is the moment of truth, perhaps the moment to which his entire career has led him. The window shutters to the left of the door stand open, but only darkness lies beyond. There is not a light to be seen anywhere in the house, and Narcisse experiences his first sense of apprehension. He lifts the cast-iron knocker and sharply raps it twice against the wood. Inside he hears the echo of it smothered by the dark. Apprehension gives way to irritation as he knocks again, louder this time. Irritation burgeoning to anger, and then frustration. Is it all just some elaborate hoax? He tries the door handle and to his surprise feels it yield to his hand. The door swings into darkness.
‘Hello?’ His voice seems strangely disconnected from his body.
There is no reply. He steps into the doorway and reaches around the wall, searching for a light switch with his fingers. He finds it. But it brings no light to this world. He curses softly behind his mask and calls again.
Still nothing. He takes another step forward. He knows that he is in the kitchen because he was here earlier. A door at the far end, beyond a long table, leads to a short hallway, and then the grand salon. But he can see almost nothing, his eyes made blind by the streets lights he has just left behind. The house feels cold and empty, and his anger becomes incandescent, as if that might light the way ahead. He takes less cautious steps further into the kitchen, his fingertips finding the tabletop to guide him. Shapes are starting to take form around him now.
A sound that whispers like the smooth passage of silk on silk startles him. Movement in the darkness ahead morphs into silhouette.
Momentary light catches polished steel, before he feels the razor-like tip of it slash across his neck. There is no real pain, just an oddly invasive sensation of burning, and suddenly he cannot breathe. His hands fly to his neck, warm blood coursing between cold fingers. He presses both palms against the wound as if somehow they might keep the blood from spilling out of him. He hears it gurgling in his severed windpipe. Just moments earlier he had been consumed by anger. Now he understands that he is going to die, but somehow cannot accept it.
It is simply not possible. Consciousness rapidly ebbs to darkness and he drops to his knees. The last thing he sees, before falling face-first to the floor, is his killer. Caught in a fleeting moment of moonlight. And he simply cannot believe it.
Wow, I cannot wait to read The Night Gate! The prologue has hooked me right in so I’m moving this one up the TBR straight away.
Peter May is heading out on a virtual book tour later this week. You can find out when and where by clicking this link: https://maypeter.com/. You’ll also be able to book tickets!
The Night Gate by Peter May was published in the UK by Riverrun on 18th March 2021 and is available in hardcover, audio and digital formats (please note, the following links are affiliate links which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you): | amazon.co.uk | Waterstones | Foyles | Book Depository | bookshop.org | Goodreads | the damppebbles bookshop.org shop |
Peter May is a Scot living in France. Winner of two major French literary awards, May’s books have also won Crime Novel of the Year awards in France, Scotland, the UK, and the United States.
With more than 4 million copies of his books sold, he is best known for his acclaimed “Lewis Trilogy“, set in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. His series of six “China Thrillers” and six France-based “Enzo Files” are currently enjoying best-selling success in reprints.
Peter May started his writing career as a journalist, winning a national award at the age of 21. Still in his twenties, he switched to writing drama for UK television. He created three major drama serials in the UK and has credits for scriptwriting or producing more than 1,000 episodes of ratings-topping shows. He quit TV in the 1990s to concentrate on his first love, writing books.