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Posts Tagged ‘racial problems’

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!