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Book Author: Martin Walker

THE CROWDED GRAVE by Martin Walker: Book Review

A return to the French countryside of Dordogne is as pleasurable as always.  Going back to St. Denis seems in some ways a step back in time to a simpler, quieter life, with the village chief of police knowing everyone in town and interpreting the law in ways to make life more agreeable.  But things, even in this village, cannot stay so agreable, or else there would be no mystery to solve.

An international team of archaeologists has returned to St. Denis to finish excavating areas they had uncovered the year before.  Bruno Courreges, the village’s chief of police, gets a call from the team’s leader, Horst Vogelstern, to report the finding of a corpse buried in the field where the team is working.

“Congratulations.  Isn’t that what you wanted to find,” responds Bruno.  Yes, is Horst’s reply, but this corpse appears to be wearing a St. Christopher’s medal and a Swatch.

Other things are going on in St. Denis as well.  Two farms have been vandalized–one is a farm that breeds geese that are sold to make foie gras, the specialty of the region.  And to further complicate matters, there is a new magistrate who has been appointed to St. Denis, and she is anti-hunting and a vegetarian.  What were the powers-that-be thinking when they chose her?

In the midst of all the above, a summit is being held in town with ministers from France and Spain.  The goal is to reach an agreement between the two countries on the issue of Basque terrorism, a problem for both nations.  The Basques have been trying to establish a separate country in the northern part of Spain for fifty years, and there are areas of France that also have a substantial number of the ethnic minority.  There has always been Basque-related terrorism, but the incidents are increasing in number and getting more violent.

Bruno is also dealing with some personal problems.  His former lover, Isabelle, who left St. Denis for a very important position in Paris, will be returning as part of the security force for the summit.  The parting between Bruno and Isabelle was difficult on both sides.  Between her ambition and his attachment to his village, a combined future for them appears out of the question.  But that doesn’t negate the feelings on both sides.

Adding to that romantic mix is Bruno’s neighbor Pamela, an Englishwoman who has established a home in the village.  She and Bruno also have a relationship, but, like Isabelle, Pamela’s stay in St. Denis may not be a long one.

Martin Walker sets a beautiful scene in this novel, as in his previous ones.  He succeeds in making all his characters stand out and their love for their home totally understandable.  Anyone who is planning to go to France or who even merely dreams of visiting that country owes it to himself/herself to read the five novels  in the series.

Martin Walker is a journalist, historian, and author of several non-fiction books.  You can read more about him at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at this web site.








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!