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Posts Tagged ‘police chief’

BRUNO, CHIEF OF POLICE by Martin Walker: Book Review

Ah, to be French.  Even in the midst of murder, one must eat, drink, and love.

Benoit Courreges, better known as Bruno, is the chief of police of the small town of St. Denis in the heart of rural France.  A decorated soldier who served with the United Nations force in Bosnia, he wants nothing more than to live the quiet life in his village and serve the people there.  But that, naturellement, is not to be.

There’s a small Arab population in St. Denis.  They are ethnic Algerians, some of whom fought for France during the African campaign of World War II and then emigrated to France.  Others fought for France against their countrymen during the Algerian war of the 1950s and ’60s and escaped to France to avoid retribution when the former colony gained independence.

There’s not much overt racism in St. Denis, which is why everyone is taken by surprise when an elderly Arab man, a Resistance fighter in the Second World War and a recipient of the Croix de guerre medal, is brutally murdered in his home.  A swastika is carved into his chest, and the only things that are missing from his house are a photo of the 1940s soccer team of which he was a member and the above-mentioned medal.

Does the swastika mean that it is a racially motivated crime? Was it committed by a villager or someone from the right-wing National Front, famous for its anti-immigrant stance?  But the family of Hamid al-Bakr has been in France for more than fifty years; the victim’s son is a teacher in the local school and his grandson runs a restaurant in town.  What could have caused the murder of this quiet, almost hermit-like man so many years after his arrival in France?

Two suspects are taken into custody almost immediately.  One is the teenage son of the town’s doctor, the other his girlfriend.  Picked up after Bruno sees their photos at a National Front rally on the Internet, both profess innocence but there appear to be no other suspects and no reason for the murder other than racial enmity.  The investigator sent from Paris would like to see this investigation wrapped up quickly and with a good deal of publicity in order to embarrass the Front, but Bruno isn’t at all certain that the teenagers have committed the crime.

This being France, the murder investigation takes frequent pauses for mouth-watering gourmet meals, homemade wines, Champagne, and the introduction of a beautiful investigator from the National Police.  Except for the murder, there’s a serene quality to the novel, with a great deal of description given to the scenery of the surrounding countryside and the delicious meals that Bruno cooks and shares with friends.

Martin Walker has created a most interesting and charming lead character for his series.  You can read more about the author at his web site and more about Bruno, Chief of Police, at hisVive la France!

SPLIT IMAGE by Robert B. Parker: Book Review

The recent death of Robert B. Parker came as a shock to mystery lovers everywhere. I’ve been a fan of Parker’s since The Godwulf Manuscript and have read each Spenser novel as soon as it was published, although I strongly believe that Parker’s first dozen books were his best.

I’ve not been so enamored of the Jesse Stone or Sunny Randall novels, although I have read several in each series.  Split Image reinforces my belief that Stone is a faint copy of  the “later” Spenser. The too-cute sexual repartee between Spenser and Susan Silverman is identical to that of Stone and whomever he’s bedding.  In addition, there’s always some soft-core verbal sexual talk between Stone and Molly Crane, the sole woman in the Paradise P.D.  In Split Image, Stone, the police chief of the afore-mentioned town, and Sunny Randall, a former Boston detective and current private investigator, try to comfort themselves by hopping into bed.   Again.

Parker portrays each of them as trying to get over their former spouses, and he does a credible job combining Stone’s efforts at moving on with his life while trying to solve two murders that involve beautiful twin sisters, each one married to a crime boss.  What’s so upsetting to Stone, and what nearly derails him, is the question how come these guys (read:  undeserving) got such beautiful, devoted wives while I (read:  deserving) got stuck with a woman who felt being rich and famous was more important than being married to me.  It takes Stone a few sessions with his psychologist and a few talks with Sunny to work out his feelings.   I wanted to say to Stone:  get over yourself, it’s not about you, it’s about solving the crimes in your town.

While Stone is dealing with his psyche, two murders take place in Paradise.  (Not so aptly named, perhaps?  It’s hard to resist taking shots at a town with a name like that.)   There’s too much angst and not enough mystery in Split Image.  In fact, there’s not much mystery at all.  The book, with its wide margins and mini-chapters, is 277 pages, but it probably could have been reformatted to 200.

In the Spenser novels, food plays a big part; in the Stone novels, it’s alcohol.  Although Stone tries to deal with his drinking with various degrees of success, the problem is always with him.  He denies he’s an alcoholic, but as he says here, he drinks when he’s happy and he drinks when he’s sad. If that’s not a good definition of an alcoholic, I’d like to know a better one.

Split Image is not a bad book, it’s just a book that feels like a retread. The mob bosses from Boston, the sexy women who find Stone irresistible, the sly sex talk–we’ve heard it all before.  I borrowed this book from a close friend.  He’s a very knowledgeable reader of mysteries and had given up reading Parker years ago, making fun of me for continuing.  However, on hearing of Parker’s death, he bought Split Image as a sort of homage to the late author.  It was a worthy thought, and I wish it had been for a better book.

You can also find out more about Robert B. Parker at his web site.