Book review: The Night Gate, by Peter May

Inspired by French attempts during the Second World War to keep art treasures from falling into the hands of the Nazis, The Night Gate is both an enjoyable read and an educational one, writes Jacob Farr
Peter MayPeter May
Peter May

The seventh and final instalment in Peter May’s Enzo Files series, The Night Gate finds forensics expert Enzo Macleod entering his twilight years. Retired from frontline duty, and with a grandchild on the way, he hopes to be able to leave the world of crime behind and focus on his family. However, when he is asked by an old friend to examine the body of a man which has been found tangled amongst the roots of a fallen tree in rural France, he soon finds himself investigating two deaths which occurred more than seventy years apart.

A week after the first body is discovered (Macleod is able to establish that the man was shot through the head) a famous art critic is found viciously murdered in a home situated in the same courtyard. Macleod’s investigations then take several twists and turns before he discovers that the two murders were connected by the most famous painting on the planet: La Jaconde – the Mona Lisa.

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Enzo’s story is set in covid-stricken France in 2021, but May also gives us the tale of Georgette Pignal, a brave young woman who, during the dark days of the Second World War, is sent into occupied France by Charles de Gaulle and tasked with protecting La Jaconde at all costs. Her tenacious character makes her easy to root for as she struggles to stay one step ahead of two German art experts sent to steal the painting for rival patrons – Hitler and Göring.

The Night Gate, by Peter MayThe Night Gate, by Peter May
The Night Gate, by Peter May

The Night Gate transports the reader back and forth in time and across Europe, with visits to war-torn London, the Outer Hebrides, where Georgette undertakes her training, occupied France and even Berlin. In particular, May uses his intimate knowledge of Scotland and rural France to his advantage, and his expert scene-setting really brings these locations to life. (May had the idea for The Night Gate after he discovered that a property he had bought in South-west France had once been used to hide priceless paintings from the Nazis, with the Mona Lisa being stashed for a time in the chateau just up the road.)

Some of the plot twists in The Night Gate can feel a little predictable, but the characters are pleasingly complex, and their true motives remain opaque throughout. This is not only a very enjoyable read, but also one which offers up some fascinating historical insights about the Louvre’s battle to keep its masterpieces out of Nazi hands.

The Night Gate, by Peter May, Riverrun, £14.99

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