Bruno Chief of Police is back again solving crimes and cooking up a storm in The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker. If you are not familiar with Bruno, you should get yourself acquainted. He is a food loving, rugby playing, horse riding, wine loving French charmer, who also happens to be the Police Chief of St. Denis, a small village in the Dordogne region of France. St. Denis, in addition to being the gastronomic heartland of France, also seems to be beset by an unusual amount of crime.
In The Crowded Grave, the fourth book in the Bruno series, St. Denis finds itself at the epicenter of the war on fois gras while preparing to host a major political summit between France and Spain. But is the kerfuffle over fois gras really just a smoke screen to distract Bruno from a potential attack by Basque separatists during the summit? Oh yeah, and an archaeological team digging in the area come across a dead body. Needless to say, Bruno has his hands full.
One of the most impressive things about The Crowded Grave, like all the Bruno books, is how author Martin Walker is able to convey the complexities of topics such as the Basque separatist movement without becoming heavy handed. Looking at Walker’s background as a Senior Scholar in International Relations it comes as no surprise that he has a thorough understanding of such matters, what may be surprising is the clarity of the language that he uses. The passion Walker has for Dordogne’s food and culture is wonderfully depicted and makes the fictitious village of St. Denis as much a character in the novel as anyone else.
Who would like this book? This book is obviously a must for anyone travelling (armchair or otherwise) to the Dordogne region of France. Walker makes the character and the food of the place come alive. His descriptions of the food made me hungry for days! There seems to be a whole genre of light mysteries out there that are as much about a sense of place as solving the crime. Think Alexander McCall Smith and his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series, or Tarquin Hall’s Vish Puri series. The Bruno books fit in nicely with those. However, if you are looking for a mystery or police procedural with lots of high paced action, blood and guts, this may not be for you.