Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Devil's Cave by Martin Walker: A review

St. Denis is a small town set smack in the middle of the Perigord region of France, an area known for its gourmet foods and fine wines and for its caves. The region is dotted with them. Many served as shelter as far back as the Neanderthals and some have the magnificent paintings on their walls that bespeak the artistry and culture of long-dead peoples. 

Those caves also played an important role in the Resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II. The caves were hiding places for people, supplies, and arms. That particular bit of history still looms large in St. Denis where there are people alive who still remember it. 

One of the caves that played such a role is the so-called Devil's Cave of this book's title. It is also integral to the mystery which Bruno Courrèges, Chief of Police of St. Denis, must try to solve.

The case begins on a fine spring day as the local church choir is practicing for its Easter concert. Bruno is observing and enjoying the practice when he receives a call that tells him that a body has been found.

In fact, the body is that of a naked woman that has been laid out on a punt floating down the river. The body has a pentagram painted on her abdomen, black candles around her, and a decapitated black cockerel beside her. The scene gives all the appearances of the trappings of a Black Mass. 

There is no identification on the body or in the boat and no one recognizes her, but Bruno is finally able to identify her as the daughter of a famous woman who was part of the Resistance and who, it turns out, is still alive and living in St. Denis but has supposedly been lost to Alzheimer's Disease.

The death of the woman at first appears to be suicide, but when the autopsy is performed, it becomes apparent that it is really a case of murder. As Bruno investigates, he finds that the death may somehow be related to a scheme to build a resort village in St. Denis, something that is touted as bringing jobs, money, and prosperity to this quiet region. Digging deeper, he begins to suspect that those involved in the planning and construction are actually perpetrating a fraud on his beloved St. Denis, something they have already done in another nearby town.

In the midst of this complicated investigation, another death occurs. This time it is a local drunk and wife beater whom Bruno had recently interacted with and the death looks like a traffic accident. But once again, the autopsy gives the lie to that supposition. Bruno, in fact, has two murders on his hands, but are they related?

I'm beginning to warm up to Bruno. In previous books, I've sometimes found him smug to the point of obnoxiousness, but he came across as quite a likable human being in this book, one who really enjoys cooking for his friends and sharing his wine with them. I find reading about his food preparation as one of the more endearing aspects of these stories. 

One of the "gourmet" dishes he cooked in this book was "beer can chicken" which he learned about from a Texan with whom he was stationed in Sarajevo. That's one of the few dishes he's cooked that I'm actually familiar with!

His love of animals is also endearing. His beloved basset hound was killed in the previous book, but now here comes his friend/lover from Paris, Isabelle, with a replacement, a basset hound puppy named Balzac. I feel sure we will get to know Balzac much better in coming books. 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars  

4 comments:

  1. I think Bruno sounds lovely! And what better things to unify people than the love for food and wine?! Anyways, I'm glad that you are finding Bruno more likable and that you liked this entry a great deal. :-)

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    1. Yes, it took a while - this is the fifth one in the series - but I'm finding that I do like Bruno quite a lot. And the description of the culture of the region and all the wonderful food and wine is just icing on the cake. So to speak.

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  2. I am pleased to hear that Bruno is shaping up for you-:) Those caves made me think of the last part of The Book of Joan. I posted my review of it while you were on vacation so you might not have seen it.

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    1. Yes, I fell behind in following my favorite blogs while I was out of town, but I'll definitely look up your review of The Book of Joan. And I'm happy, too, to be finding Bruno a congenial companion.

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