Martin Walker

Death in the Dordogne – Martin Walker

Title – Death in the Dordogne

Author – Martin Walker

Published – 2009

Genre – Crime fiction

I came to the Martin Walker / Bruno Chief of Police series at book 5 and have been curious to read the earlier books, so I took the opportunity of an offer with the Book People to buy books 1 – 3. There are quite a few references to a number of preceding events in the later books and I wanted to better understand some of the background. The problem I found, however, is that while the first book provides a lot of background it does it by ‘telling’ rather than  ‘showing’.

There are two main investigative threads to Death in the Dordogne – one is the the death of an elderly man, head of an immigrant North African family, and decorated former soldier. The other is the guerrilla tactics being used to deter EU hygiene inspectors, Brussels bureaucrats, who want to interfere with the traditional ways of the local market traders. It may have been published in 2009 but the issues that crop up – mistrust of Brussels, distrust of foreigners, the rise of the far right feel very current.

The pace is quite slow, which isn’t unusual for the series, there are the gastronomic delights that are a feature of the series and the ‘aspirational’ feel – who wouldn’t want to live Bruno’s life in St Denis? The main mystery is relatively simple and the resolution is one that demonstrates the ‘just’ side of Bruno, a man with a clear moral compass. The story also taught me some aspects of French history that I wasn’t aware of.

It’s an interesting perspective to go back to the beginning of a series because the first thing I wondered was ‘why start here?’. What was it about book one that marked the start? I think it’s the fact that although Bruno has been in his post for some time this is the point at which he has to deal with his first murder (after this there is a real increase in the number of deaths in the area…). The investigation demands that external resources are brought in so this is also the point where he meets Isabelle for the first time.

I have to say that if this was the first book I had read I might not have pressed on with the series. Whether as a conscious effort or not, the later books feel like the author gets better at filling in the backstory the reader needs to know without it being such an obstacle to the pace.

The book serves well as an introduction but the series is one that definitely gets better.

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The Templar’s Last Secret – Martin Walker

Title – The Templar’s Last Secret

Author – Martin Walker

Published – June 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the tenth in the ‘Bruno, Chief of Police’ series of books and although I haven’t read all of the series it certainly seems to be the case that Walker isn’t losing his way as time moves on.

For me these books are a sort of ‘aspirational crime fiction’. Who wouldn’t want to be living in the countryside of the Périgord, riding horses, meeting up and cooking with friends – all accompanied by Balzac the basset hound. Despite the setting the situations do manage to echo the darkness of the ‘outside world’ which keeps the books topical but with the execution still keeping to the cosier side of crime fiction. All done without the getting the feeling that the circumstances are stretching credibility.

This latest title in the series is a great combination of the old and the new. The book opens with the discovery of the body of a woman outside a cave beneath the ruined Templar chateau of Commarque. The woman’s death re-opens debate over a centuries-old mystery concerning hidden treasure. This, as well as the forthcoming marriage of Bruno’s friends, two professional archaeologists, allows Walker to explore the history of the area and the Templars. (I have to confess that some of the background did feel a bit unnecessary.)

During the course of the investigation Bruno has a Ministry of Justice bureaucrat foisted on him who intends to carry out a time and motion study to better understand how he works with the locals and the gendarmes. The situation isn’t as bad as it may seem as Amélie has an exotic background, a dress style not often seen in the area and a singing voice that gains her more than a few admirers. Her character acts as a bit of a sidekick to Bruno and she becomes involved in his investigations, with the important task of demonstrating the power of social media.

Bruno’s investigations do, however, lead to a very modern problem. This involves a more traditional investigation which is eventually headed up by the mysterious Brigadier from Paris as well as a face from Bruno’s past.

Another enjoyable read in the series with the mix of domestic tranquility, police investigations, a race against time situation, historical background and very topical issues. And I can’t be the only person who has gone on to google the region to find out more about it after reading one of Walker’s books!

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

Fatal Pursuit – Martin Walker

51Bb-MAV6NLTitle – Fatal Pursuit

Author – Martin Walker

Published – 2 June 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

I believe that (in an ideal world) I should read all series from the beginning and in order but as the first book I read by Martin Walker was number 5 in his ‘Bruno’ series, when I was offered the chance to read Fatal Pursuit (number 9) I couldn’t see any reason to turn it down.

Not much has changed in the French town of St Denis and Bruno seems to have weathered whatever events befell him in the intervening books. He still has his faithful basset hound, Balzac, he rides regularly, enjoys his food and has a busy love life (I’m curious about Bruno’s charm because all the ladies seem to fall for him). Not for him the cliches of the traditional detective!

Bruno has organised a vintage car parade as part of the town’s name day and the event, as well as a regional heat for the French rally driver’s championship, attracts two young men with a passion for cars. It transpires that both men are in search of a valuable Bugatti which mysteriously disappeared in the area during the Second World War. The car they are searching for is a Bugatti Type 57C Atlantic and the mystery is based on a true story – there were only four ever built and the whereabouts of three of the cars is known.

The story has a gentle pace and multiple threads. A man is found dead at the beginning of the book which may or may not have a connection with the hunt for the missing car, there is a potential connection to money laundering for Islamic terrorism, a teenager who is being bullied and a family feud over a piece of land. Eventually, one way or another, the threads are all drawn together in Walker’s very readable style.

This is escapist crime fiction, set in a location that the author makes you want to visit, people that he makes you want to meet and above all, food that he makes you want to taste.  This is an enjoyable read with a traditional crime fiction puzzle at its heart and is a perfect antidote to ‘noir’ crime fiction.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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As an aside I had to find out what all the fuss was about – so below is a photograph of the Bugatti Type 57C Atlantic owned by Ralph Lauren for $40 million. I can see it’s a pretty stunning looking car but that much money?!

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Coppa d’Oro Villa d’Este – Best of Show by Public Referendum at Villa d’Este: Bugatti, 57SC Atlantic, Coupé, Jean Bugatti, 1938, Ralph Lauren, USA

 

The Devil’s Cave – Martin Walker

51MmzurxOMLTitle – The Devil’s Cave

Author – Martin Walker

Published – August 2012

Genre – Crime fiction

I have to apologise because the presence of the world’s largest sporting event on my doorstep seems to have interrupted my blogging. It started with a visit by the torch, then there was cycling through the nearby villages, and finally 24 channels of TV. It’s been hard to tear myself away, but in a few days it will all be gone & life will have to return to normal.

So attacking the pile of books which I should review ‘The Devil’s Cave’ by Martin Walker, sent by the kind folk at Quercus, is top of the stack. I have to confess that until I went to Crimefest I hadn’t heard of Martin, and even then, with all the new authors I was introduced to, he didn’t strike me as an author I needed to rush out and buy. How wrong I was!

The Devil’s Cave is the fifth  title in the Bruno Courrèges series – more commonly called “Bruno, Chief of Police”. Bruno lives and polices in a rural town in the Périgord region of France – which sounds idyllic and I could only visualise a sort of French “Midsomer”.  It’s also easy to draw parallels with another crime fiction series set in Continental Europe and featuring a food-loving policemen – Andrea Camilleri. Possibly describing the book as a cross between Midsomer Murders and Inspector Montalbano does it no favours though!

Coming in at the fifth book in a series does make you wonder if you will feel as if you’ve missed too much, or if there will be too much explanation of what’s gone before getting in the way of the current story. I think that by and large this struck the right balance, I knew enough to follow the story and characters, but not too much. Although there were one or two references to Bruno’s past which may spoil the earlier titles if I go back to them.

So what about the story? The book opens with the body of a naked woman in a boat drifting down the river and into the town. At first thought to be a suicide, the initial puzzle is to identify the dead woman. Rumours of Satanism abound and soon enterprising townsfolk are cashing in on the sudden increase in visitors to the town. While Bruno tries to work on the case he has to deal with the more mundane aspects of his job – a husband who has beaten his wife, and a Mayor who is keen to support a new development near the town. Bruno’s personal life is also interesting with several ladies featuring as well as a fair amount of cooking!

The mysteries at the heart of the story are well thought out and make for an interesting story, Bruno is an engaging character, and who could fail to be charmed by the French setting. The final showdown was quite complex, but also given a decent proportion of the book – not crammed into a few pages at the end. This was a real antidote to some of the darker crime fiction I’ve read recently.

I’m looking forward to exploring more of the Bruno, Chief of Police titles.

Score – 4/5