The President of France must decide whether to commute a death sentence. A senior civil servant, finding both his wife and his daughter in flagrante delicto with an artist, shot them all dead. Inspector Henri Castang, the investigating officer, is summoned to the Élysée Palace. There is no doubt as to the accused’s guilt. He admits it and seems to welcome the death sentence.
Freeling’s novel examines the French judicial system. We’ve all heard that the Napoleonic Code says that a man is presumed guilty until proven innocent, but in fact, under the French criminal code, there’s a strong presumption of innocence. For those of us who are more accustomed—from movies, television, and books— to the Anglo-American court system, it’s an interesting insight into how things were done in France 40 years ago.