Wine, cheese, drugs, and Nazis plain and neo

Take rural France and mix with wine, cheese, drugs, and Nazis plain and neo. Result? Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police.

St. Denis is a small village in Perigot in the south of present-day France. The first chapter opens on a beautiful day in May, with Bruno Courreges, St. Denis’s chief of police, surveying his village from upon high with no little satisfaction, but also with no illusions. St. Denis has its problems, including feuding World War II vets and interfering EU inspectors, but Bruno, a refugee from war himself, has found a home in this little valley along the Dordogne River and his love for it does not blind him to its realities.

One of which, this glorious May day, manifests itself in the body of one of the aforementioned war veterans, discovered most brutally murdered in his own home. Follow the clues, you might get there before Bruno did, but the red herrings are numerous and convincing, beginning with slacker teens, neo-Nazis and Dutch drug dealers. The very satisfying resolution proves to be much closer to home, and no cheating, either, and the characters are iconic without being stereotypical, beginning with Bruno:

He had worn [his gun] on duty on only three occasions in his ten years in the Police Municipale. The first was when a rabid dog had been sighted in a neighboring commune…The second was when the president of France had driven through St. Denis on his way to see the celebrated cave pantings of Lascaux nearby…The third time was when a boxing kangaroo escaped from a local circus. On no occasion had Bruno’s gun ever been used on duty, a fact of which he was extremely but privately proud.

The setting begins as nearly idyillic, a small town in a scenic countryside where the Tuesday market has been a fixture for seven centuries:

Every Tuesday since the year 1346, when the English had captured half the nobility of France at the Battle of Crecy and the grand Brillamont family ad to raise money to pay the ransom for their seigneur, the little Perigord town of St. Denis has held a weekly mrket. The townspeople had raised the princely sum of fifty livres of silver for their feudal lord and, in return, they cannily secured the right from him to hold the market, understanding that this would guarantee a livelihood to the tiny community…

The description of Bruno’s cottage had me mentally packing my bags for the next plane east, glass ready for some of his vin de noix. In Bruno, Chief of Police, Martin Walker has picked up Miss Marple‘s St. Mary Mead and dropped it into the middle of A Year in Provence. A more delightful debut novel you will seldom find.

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