Le quai des brumes - Pierre Mac Orlan
This is a post-war novel, written in 1927. Why, then, did Mac Orlan choose to set it in 1910 (mostly)? It seems to be retrospective in intention, partly nostalgic, mostly gloomy. There are multiple references to the coming war; the last chapter is an epilogue in 1919. Mac Orlan brought together five characters in a bar, then sent them to their separate destinies; he indicated that they were all, to some extent, "marked by death". Firstly there was a German painter, who could see that two of the others were murderers, as it was his gift to see murder; he killed himself out of "disgust with all things", after dismissing the Germany of his childhood as an unreal vision of nostalgia. The author said that "he could not wait long enough" to die in the war, but I on the other hand think it was better to get out beforehand. Another character was a soldier who intended to stop being one but couldn't manage it. The third was a murderous butcher, who ended on the guillotine; perhaps his real mistake was not being "important" enough to kill people on a properly large scale like the military did. Two others had no inkling, that night at the bar, that they would be caught up in violence. They were small-time vagabonds, living from meal to meal and seeking shelter where they could. One of them, Jean Rabe, became more and more alienated, was conscripted into the army and lost his life by opening fire on an officer -- not in rage but simply in disgust. The other, Nelly, decided to end her poverty by taking up prostitution on a large and criminal scale, becoming a facilitator to murder.

All these lost, failed destinies seemed, to Mac Orlan, appropriate to the time building up to the war. He filled the novel with machine metaphors, as if people were caught up in a deadly social mechanism, indeed were themselves largely cogs.