The lovely thing about sunny bank holiday weekends, the chance to laze about in the garden with good books! Heaven! Being very far from anywhere exotic however, I chose two books set in rural France, so at least I could imagine I was on a proper holiday while I sipped my cheap French beer. I’d not come across Martin Walker and his fictional detective hero Bruno Courreges before, but found myself thoroughly enjoying these murder mysteries set in the small town of St Denis, and although I’d not read previous escapades it did not detract from the experience.
In The Devil’s Cave, Bruno, chef de police, is charged with solving the mysterious death of a young woman found floating naked and dead in a small boat down the river, with signs that her death may involve sinister rituals. Before long the local press are having a field day invoking rumours of a satanic cult and some of the local people are encouraging the stories in an attempt to increase the tourist trade. Dealing with local politics, including protests about the development of a tourist resort in the town, leads Bruno into a complex case of financial, sexual and historical intrigue, all the while trying to balance his own complicated love life. In The Resistance Man, an antiques dealer is found dead and the prime suspect is linked to a conspiracy harking back to the Second World War, while Bruno has to deal with his own guilt about a previous case of homophobic violence that is far too close to his current assignment.
Bruno is a satisfying protagonist with an interesting past and is given an ongoing story arc with his romantic relationships. He is not as tortured as many modern fictional detectives, and if I have one critical comment it would be that I would have liked more insight into his interior world, to understand what is making him tick (other than food – of which there are many loving descriptions – his dog, and his romantic entanglements!). But there are many hints as to a darker past in his armed forces experience, and this leaves you space to construct his character in your own head. The recurrent members of the cast are painted simply but well, and it evoked a similar feel to Midsomer Murders in that although the details of the crimes are gruesome and shocking, they are not dwelt upon, so reading this series is a pleasurable rather than tortuous experience. There are no graphic descriptions, no overwrought pushing beyond the boundaries of taste, that many modern crime novels resort to in order to terrify and titillate. Instead they’re simply highly readable, well-constructed tales, that you can relax into and enjoy. If you like Henning Mankell’s Wallander novels, or Camilla Lackberg’s Patrick Hedstrom stories, you’ll enjoy Martin Walker’s Bruno novels. And they are perfect reads for sunny Sundays, although be warned, the gratutious descriptions of French cuisine will make you hungry (and jealous!). Rating:***
The Devil’s Cave, Quercus, 2012, ISBN 9781780870700
The Reistance Man, Quercus, 2013, ISBN 9781780870717
Copies of these books were provided by the publisher