The content life of Bruno Courreges, chief of police of St. Denis is once again about to get disturbed when too many things start happening in the sleepy hamlet. An important archaeological discovery followed by an unidentified corpse, a Franco-Spanish summit coming on the heels of disturbance caused by animal right activists. Bruno has to use his smart and his local knowledge to unravel the mystery and thwart a terrorist plan.
Martin Walker’s Bruno Courreges series has a special place on my bookshelf. I have read three books so far (in no particular order) and all of them have been outstanding. The Crowded Grave has multiple interlinked storylines that make a complex plot and yet Walker maintains the charm of French country life that includes Bruno’s delicious recipes and special wines. This is a very delicate job and Walker maintains this balance splendidly.
An archaeological team makes an important discovery about pre historic Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal man at a site near St. Denis. During their dig, they unearth a recent skeleton buried for some twenty years. This discovery coincides with a Franco-Spanish summit planned at St. Denis. The summit is to uphold policy of cooperation against Basque separatist and therefore an obvious terrorist threat looms. This draws various French security services to St. Denis. Bruno’s former lover Inspector Isabelle Perrault is also among them. Seconded to Isabelle’s team to ensure that summit concludes peacefully, Bruno has other things on his plate. Animal right activists are causing havoc at foie gras farms around St. Denis. Bruno suspects that students working on the archaeological site have hand in it. To complicate the matter, professor Horst, the German archaeologist who is leading the dig goes missing. Horst is Bruno’s friend and Bruno cannot ignore his disappearance at such crucial time. What follows is theft of dynamite from a local quarry and arson at a local foie gras factory. Bruno suspects that all these events are somehow linked and the old skeleton as well as Horst’s vanishing is aimed at disrupting the summit.
Sounds complicated? It is. The Crowded Grave has most convoluted plot among Walker’s books that I have read. Yet, reading it is a sheer pleasure. Once again, Walker shows that he can take on sensitive issues of French politics with an unbiased and objective outlook. Somehow, amidst all this chaos, he maintains his sedate pace of narration that is so typical of this series. The book is full of characters, all of whom play part in making French rural life real to us. And of course, beauty of Perigord region, French cuisine and wine has a special place in the book.
“He savoured the foie gras and its truffles, the creamy, refined richness of the foie and the earthy perfume of the truffle blending warmly together, two opposites that attracted each other and together created something much grander. He sipped the last of his Monbazillac as the plates were cleared and then Ivan brought in the first of five large tureens, each with its own ladle. Encrevisses a la nage, Ivan announced, crayfish atop a broth of celery and fennel, onions and carrots.”
“Fabiola brought in her mother’s dish, a risotto made with fish stock, and coquilles St Jacques, brushed with olive oil and grilled, on a separate platter. The rice was perfect, the short grained Italian variety that was made for risotto.”
Lip smacking? Then you must read Bruno not for anything else but only for his delicacies and his lovely country life which I suspect is now becoming a rarity even in this gastronomical heartland of France.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time.
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