Book Quote:

“In the back of the van were a crowbar, a tangle of battery cables, one basket containing newly laid eggs from his own hens, and another with his garden’s first spring peas. Two tennis rackets, a pair of rugby boots, sneakers, and a large bag with various kinds of sports attire and a spare line from a fishing rod added to the jumble. Tucked neatly to one side were a first-aid kit, a small tool chest, a blanket, and a picnic hamper with plates and glasses, salt and pepper, a head of garlic and a Laguiole pocketknife with a horn handle and a corkscrew. Tucked under the front seat was a bottle of not-quite-legal eau-de-vie from a friendly farmer. He would use this to make his private stock of vin de noix when the green walnuts were ready on the feast of St. Catherine. Benoit Courreges, chief of police for the small commune of St. Denis and its 2,900 souls, and universally known as Bruno, was always very well prepared.”

Book Review:

Review by Lynn Harnett (APR 29, 2010)

A paean to the Dordogne, an exploration of fractious French history, and the debut of the most self-possessed, accomplished, even-tempered, life-savoring Holmesian character ever, Walker’s first Bruno novel proves once and for all that heavyweight journalists can write mystery novels.

Former Russia and U.S. bureau chief for The Guardian, current Editor Emeritus of UPI, author of such books as The Cold War, and The President They Deserve, this British journalist, historian, scholar, and global policy advisor has created a hero dedicated to the quiet, regular, sensual life of rural France.

Bruno, an orphan abandoned by his mother, joined the military at an early age and spent 12 years with the Combat Engineers, which seems roughly equivalent to Special Forces. Receiving a Croix de Guerre for his service in the Balkans, Bruno retired to St. Denis and became the town’s police chief and only policeman.

Although new to the town, he has become part of its fabric, savoring the rhythm of life – his own and that of the townspeople, from the two old WWII partisans that don’t speak, and the town’s token communist, to its bakers and cheese makers and vintners, its quarrels, rivalries and long-simmering feuds, even its newcomers – the English tourists who have lately been pushing up the housing prices.

He plays tennis with the Baron (atheist and retired industrialist), coaches kids at rugby, hunts birds, cooks, works on his house, organizes parades, safeguards the local market from the health inspectors of the European Union, and with the help of his friend the politically well-connected mayor, generally keeps the peace.

This idyllic life is threatened when someone stabs a reclusive Algerian grandfather – a hero of the French Resistance and winner of the Croix de Guerre – carving a swastika into his chest. Some druggy kids, local members of the Front National, the extreme right, are arrested, but despite motive and opportunity, Bruno is not convinced.

The politicians swoop in and take over, determined to bring this sensational hate crime to a swift and triumphant conclusion. But Bruno keeps turning up evidence that delays their gratification.

Meanwhile there is budding romance with an attractive inspector assigned to St. Denis for the investigation, and flirtation with the English ladies who run a small resort near the murdered man’s home. There are truffles to be shaved, meals to be cooked and enjoyed with good wine, ruffled feathers to be smoothed, scenery to be admired, facts to be gleaned and interpreted.

There is an edgy feel to the book, a tension caused by the ugly feelings towards immigrants, especially Muslims, seen as disrupting tradition. In return the Muslims dig in their heels and don chadors. And longstanding tensions arise from the tangled roots of WWII occupation and collaboration. Not everyone was really a member of the Resistance. Hard feelings run deep.

But the strongest undercurrent is a sense of French joie de vivre, an attention to small rituals, an appreciation of conversation, attractive women, good clothes, good food, and all the trappings of civilized life.

Bruno is a master of calm thinking, diplomacy and planning – a marvel really. But his careful and commanding organization seems part of the fabric of his being, well nurtured after his chaotic youth. Readers will appreciate – even believe – his apparent perfection.

Walker’s love of the place shines through. Readers will look forward to visiting it again with him and the incomparable Bruno, this coming July when The Dark Vineyard is released.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 24 readers
PUBLISHER: Vintage; 1 edition (April 6, 2010)
REVIEWER: Lynn Harnett
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More in this series:

The Dark Vineyard

More new favorite mystery series:

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall


French Countryside Mysteries:

Other Fiction:


April 30, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: 2009 Favorites, France, Sleuths Series

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