My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Benoit Courreges, known to everyone as Bruno, is the chief of police in the small village of St. Denis in the Dordogne region of southwestern France. He's a unique kind of policeman. He has a gun but he keeps it locked away. He makes every possible effort not to arrest people, preferring reasoning with them and sometimes turning a blind eye to minor infringements. His main challenge as a policeman seems to be protecting the vendors at the village market from the EU health and safety inspectors who are charged with ensuring that regulations are followed and who are authorized to hand out fines to those who attempt to circumvent the rules.
Bruno is an orphan who found his calling as a soldier serving with United Nations forces in Bosnia. Coming home, he had a mentor in one of his former commanders in Bosnia and through the efforts of that man, now the mayor of the town, Bruno became chief of police and found a sense of family at last in the people of his village. He is completely devoted to them and to the welfare of his community.
That community includes some Arabs, descendants of immigrants from North Africa. One particular family is well-known and highly esteemed by the close-knit citizenry. The village is rocked when the patriarch of that family, a man who was considered a war hero who had won the Croix de Guerre for his services in Vietnam, is brutally murdered, with a swastika carved on his chest. The murder brings to the fore hidden racial and cultural resentments and threatens to rip apart the unity and the easy-going rhythms that have long marked life in this community.
The national police are charged with the investigation of the crime, but Bruno, as the local expert, is attached to the team of investigators. It soon develops that the roots of the crime reach far back to World War II days and the role that the French Resistance played. It seems that the victim may not have always been the hero that his family believed him to be. The writer was able to seamlessly weave in details of the World War II experience in the French countryside which helped to make the story more realistic.
Throughout the investigation, Bruno continues his daily interaction with all the locals, the friends and neighbors who are a part of his circle. We get to know them all as they meet at the market, play tennis or rugby, visit the local caves which contain prehistoric paintings, and especially as they share meals. And what fabulous meals! Food is an integral part of this story. Well, it is France, isn't it?
This is the first in a series. I learned about it through one of my blogger buddies, Snap of Tales from Twisty Lane. It's a favorite of hers and since I have found that she and I often agree on reading material, I was interested to give it a try. I'm glad I did. It is well-written, humanistic in philosophy, and the characters are believable and thoroughly likable. It actually reminded me somewhat of Alexander McCall Smith's Botswana series featuring Precious Ramotswe. Moreover, I thought the plot and the pacing of the story were deftly done and, even though the story moved at the pace of country life and there was not a lot of action, it was sufficient to keep the reader interested and turning the pages to see what Bruno would do next.
I particularly enjoyed the writer's vivid descriptions of what must be a truly beautiful region. It is obviously a place that he knows well and loves, and I look forward to learning more about it in future books in the series.
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