The Red Rooster by Michael Wallace is a thrilling and suspenseful World War II tale of revenge, romance and intrigue that mostly takes place in German-occupied Paris following France’s defeat and partition.
Gabriella Reyes and her intellectual father fled to France after Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War, but when the Germans invade in 1940 they find it harder to escape. An exceptionally cruel Gestapo officer arrests Gabriella’s father, leaving the young woman alone in a country reeling from the consequences of its complete defeat at the hands of the German army.
As the victors, the Germans take the best of everything, from food to raw materials, and they take men to serve as laborers in German factories and on farms. Although black markets spring up, many in Paris are dying a slow death from starvation and disease, unable to afford the prices.
A chance meeting offers Gabriella a way to escape such a grim fate by working as a “hostess” at Le Coq Rouge, the Red Rooster, but at what cost to her dignity? Still, her overwhelming desire is to find her father, and the clientele there includes many German officers. One night, the Gestapo officer who arrested her father shows up, just as she hoped.
But Gabriella isn’t the only person hiding something that night at The Red Rooster. No spoilers here, but I am happy to say I enjoyed reading The Red Rooster. The setting really hooked me; the daily life of post-defeat France is not likely to be something most Americans know much about, but the privations suffered by the people created situations where the choices made often resulted in compromised principles.
Starve, or ignore your ethics and do something you normally wouldn’t? Collaborate with the enemy — a concept mostly unheard of in America since the Revolutionary War — or die from lack of basic medical help? Sell everything you hold dear at a fraction of its value, or hold onto possessions and your dignity?
Rest assured, Mr. Wallace’s tale isn’t a deep, slow-moving literary tome examining morality and ethics. Those questions are there if you want to look at them, but in the background, while up front The Red Rooster is very much a fast-paced thriller with plenty of twists and turns. The ending, while satisfying, made me wish Mr. Wallace had included a short paragraph updating the fate of each character.
I recommend The Red Rooster to anyone looking for a suspenseful and exciting story with a unique and, to me at least, very interesting setting.
Michael Wallace’s blog can be found here.