Thursday, 14 April 2016

Martin Walker and the Bruno, Chief of Police Mystery Series

Back a few years, when I was stationed down in Victoria, BC, if I didn't come back to Comox for my weekend, I'd spend a Saturday afternoon wandering downtown Victoria, checking out the book stores. Often it's the cover of a book that will attract my attention at first and then I'll check out the synopsis and if that also sounds interesting, I'll get the book. I remember seeing the first Bruno, Chief of Police book at Munro's Book Store during one of my wanderings. There was definitely something about it; I liked the cool blue, the cover photo. It just seemed fresh and inviting. The synopsis also attracted my attention. It wasn't until I came back to Comox though, that I finally took the plunge with Bruno. I had looked at it many times and finally could no longer resist and I purchased it at The Laughing Oyster in downtown Courtenay.

Author Martin Walker
Bruno, Chief of Police was the first book in, what has become one of my favourite series, by British author, Martin Walker. Of course, when I bought Bruno, I had no idea that it would become a series. Walker is a reporter and author, also a senior director at the management consulting corporation, AT Kearney. He has written various non-fiction books as well, besides the Bruno series, but it's that series that interested me. His bio states that he lives in the Périchord region of France and this is where he has set the Bruno series.

Bruno is Chief of Police of the small town of Saint Denis, a town in the Dordogne region. He is an ex-French soldier who had served in the Balkans. What I love about the story and, in fact, all of the stories is that they are more than just a mystery. We get to meet the people of the area, experience the cultural activities that make the community rich, sample the foods and wines that the people enjoy. It is very much like Donna Leon's Inspector Brunetti series, which I focused on in a much earlier Blog. The mystery is important and can be quite gritty, but it is interspersed with a perspective of a wonderful lifestyle and wonderful people.

This is the synopsis of Bruno, Chief of Police.

"Meet Bruno: amateur chef, foie gras connoisseur, bachelor about town and - in his spare time, it seems - Chief of Police. Of course, Bruno is the only police officer in sleepy Saint Denis, a town in France's beautiful Dordogne region known more for its caves at Lascaux than for its crime rate. In a typical week, Bruno's responsibilities include marshalling cantankerous veterans into a parade, making his own special vin de noix from local walnuts and protecting the town's traditional cheeses from the pasteurizing influences of EU inspectors. He has a gun but never wears it; he has the power to arrest but hopes never to use it.

Still, not every day is postcard perfect in Saint Denis. When the elderly patriarch of an Algerian family is found murdered, Bruno must use his formidable investigative skills to restore peace to his beloved village. Marks on the victim's body lead to immediate assumptions that the crime is racially motivated, and suspicion quickly falls on the local doctor's son, caught surrounded by Nazi paraphernalia. But Bruno knows his people better than to jump to quick conclusions and sees a more complex explanation lurking in the memories and unsettled feuds of the German occupation during WW II."

I loved this story right from the get-go. I loved the characters, the relationships and the locale and the mystery was well crafted and written. I especially liked the 'mad Englishwoman'. All in all it was a fantastic, 5-star introduction to the wonderful world of Bruno.

Since that time, I've read the next two books in the series and enjoyed them just as much. The Dark Vineyard is the 2nd book in the series and this is its synopsis.

"When an agricultural research station is burned down, Bruno suspects a group of fervent environmentalists, but the fire is only the first in a string of incidents centering on the fertile soil of Saint-Denis. Soon winemakers from outside the town - Max, who hopes to make organic wine; Jacqueline, a flirtatious, newly arrived Québécoise; and Fernando, the heir to a wine fortune - are competing with the villagers for its land. Events grow darker and darker, culminating in two mysterious deaths. The Dordogne's great pleasures - wine, romance and intrigue - are suddenly a threat, and it's up to Bruno to use his skills, tact and local knowledge to discover the truth."

As a 2nd book, The Dark Vineyard was every bit as good as the first book. Martin Walker does have a way with creating, developing and making his stories most enjoyable. This was my review of this book.

"This is the second in the Bruno Chief of Police books. It was a worthy follow-on to the intro to Bruno and his small community of Saint-Denis in France. Bruno is involved solving an arson and murder case and must also deal with an American businessman trying to establish an international wine business in the valley. Not only an excellent mystery, the story by Martin Walker provides a well-crafted, interesting description of the small community and the people who live there. I enjoyed very much, definitely like Bruno and his dog, Gigi and also his friends. A nice mix of mystery, character development and just an excellent story."

The third instalment, Black Diamond, came out in 2010 and delves into the exotic world of truffles, especially the 'black diamond' truffle of Saint-Denis.

"The village of Saint-Denis is home to the exquisite 'black diamond' truffle, and at five thousand euros a kilo, it's a treasured asset. When reports come in that this delicacy is being adulterated with a cheaper Chinese version, the town's beloved chief of police, Bruno Courreges, is asked to investigate. Is organized crime behind the gastronomic swindle? In the local market, a Vietnamese family's popular food stall is one day wrecked by vicious attackers. Bruno wonders if this is the opening shot in an Asian gang war. When Hercule, Bruno's hunting partner and a former top-level military man, is found brutally murdered, things start to look more complex still, as past and present converge around historical wounds."

This was my review of this third instalment.

"There is something about this series that I love. I picked up the first book, Bruno, Chief Of Police, because I was firstly attracted to the cover. And then when I read the synopsis, I had to give it a try. I wasn't disappointed, quickly falling in love with Bruno's life, his village and friends. I've since read the second book, The Dark Vineyard, which was even better, further developing Bruno's character and letting us know more about his friends and his village. I finished the third book this morning; I had to find out how it would end. I have to give this a five-star rating. I find that Martin Walker writes the story in such a way that I find myself drawn into the life of the community of Saint Denis in the district of Perigord. I find myself caring for Bruno, worrying about his future, his personal life and the lives of his close friends; the Baron, Pamela (the English resident), the lovely Fabiola (the doctor) and all of the others. This story is filled with action, from illegal truffle activities, illegal Asian immigrants, gang wars and political intrigue. But even with all that, there is time to delve into the community that Bruno patrols and into Bruno's life. He loves his community and will do anything to protect it. The people are colourful and different from my own experiences and Walker describes them gently and lovingly. And the food... ah, the food, my mouth waters as I watch Bruno prepare his repasts. At any rate, it's an excellent series and I'm happy to discover that there are at least three follow-on books for me to find and see what will happen next? Will Bruno settle down with Pamela? Or someone else? :) Enjoy!"

Now that's as far as I've explored the Bruno series so far. Book 4 sits on my bookshelf awaiting my attention and I'm sure I'll get to it this year. As well, there are 4 more books and one e-book in the series. It's definitely well-worth making the effort to try at least the first book. What have you got to lose? Spending an enjoyable visit to this fantastic region of France and meeting its people?

Just for your interest and to whet mine once more, this is the synopsis of the 4th instalment; The Crowded Grave.

"It's spring in the idyllic village of Saint-Denis, and for Bruno that means lamb stews, bottles of his beloved Pomerol, morning walks with his hound - and a new string of regional capers and international crimes. When a local archeological dig turns up a contemporary corpse, Bruno has a new case to solve. But there are complications: an escalating series of attacks on local foie gras producers; an international summit about to take place nearby; and two beautiful, brilliant women vying for Bruno's affections. Bruno's investigations take him deeper and deeper into Europe's recent history of terrorism and counterterrorism - and, inexorably, toward a dramatic, startling conclusion."

The other books in the series (so far) are -

- The Devil's Cave (2012)
- Bruno and the Carol Singers (e-book, short story)
- The Resistance Man (2013)
- Children of War (2014)
- The Dying Season (2015)

Try them out. :0)

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