Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Review of "Bruno, Chief of Police" by Martin Walker

Benoit Courreges - Chief of Police of St. Denis, France - is known as Bruno to everyone in the tight little community. Bruno loves the town and tries to ensure that the local traditions are not disturbed by pesky regulations from the European Union. Bruno turns a blind eye (and even helps the scofflaws), for example, when health inspectors who would ban some homemade goods from the weekly market are held up due to slashed tires or potatoes in their exhaust pipes.

Though St. Denis has a mixed population of native French men and women as well as Algerians and other foreigners, people get along and there is little serious crime. Thus Bruno has plenty of time to socialize, play tennis, teach tennis to youngsters, follow the local rugby team, make his own wine and paté, garden, and so on. Then one day an Algerian grandfather is found brutally murdered in his cabin, a swastika carved into his chest, and his medal of honor and a treasured photo missing. Members of the right-wing National Front - a political party that opposes immigration - immediately rise to the top of the suspect list.

Given the background between France and Algeria - as well as some anti-immigration sentiment - the investigation is politically sensitive. Thus big-wig detectives and officals are sent to St. Denis to take over the inquiry. Bruno has invaluable local knowledge however - and with the help of some acquaintances - is instrumental in uncovering important clues. Along the way Bruno has a romance, plays tennis doubles, has a delicious English meal prepared by two British ladies, drinks a good deal of wine and champage, has a unique picnic, and so on. The author skillfully weaves the wonderful ambiance of St. Denis into the story, and the reader is simultaneously charmed by the town and intrigued by the murder investigation.

The story is full of interesting characters, including an Algerian math teacher and his family, two patriotic World War II veterans who haven't spoken for thirty years, mischievous children, hard-partying/drug-dealing teenagers, attractive ladies, political operatives, gendarmes, and more. The murder investigation uncovers some interesting aspects of French/Algerian history while driving the story forward at a steady clip. All in all a very enjoyable cozy mystery, highly recommended.

Rating: 4 stars

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