Monday, October 21, 2013

Food, Wine and Whodunit

When Bruno Courreges' local intelligence network reveals that EU inspectors are on their way to the local  market, Bruno hastens to warn his friends and neighbours to disappear any offending foodstuffs. Bruno, Chief of Police, has a well-defined sense of what's important in keeping order  in the small town of St. Denis and it doesn't include enforcing petty EU regulations.  Rather, it's all about coaching young kids to play rugby and keep out of trouble, involving himself in the life of the town and averting trouble with a quiet word planted in the right ear.

The Bruno Courreges mysteries by Martin Walker, the first of which is simply named Bruno, Chief of Police, lack the pyrotechnics of fast-paced thrillers - no exotic forensics, frenzied chases, or demented psychopaths.  The reader isn't navigating treacherous rapids, but rather meandering down a gentle stream with Bruno as guide.  Along the way we meet the local cast of characters, the age-old customers and traditions of central France, and, most of all, the food and wine.

As well as being a somewhat unorthodox policeman who's long since lost the keys to his handcuffs, Bruno is also rugby coach, hunter, gardener, and gourmet cook. A sample of Bruno's extraordinary culinary talents might include a perfect omelet made with his own truffles, vin de noix made from green walnuts he picked, and grilled woodcocks, the fruits of his own hunting.  Scene after scene, we are treated to descriptions of gourmet delights.  Some are mouth watering, like the description of wonderful cheese with fresh baguette.  Some make me a bit squeamish, like the the description of the proper way to enjoy the best parts of a woodcock: hold the beak and eat the head whole, and spread the vacated intestines on fresh baguette.

I've read the first two Bruno books so far, and thoroughly enjoyed them.  Thanks to my cousin Bill for the recommendation.

This book belongs to what I call a sub-genre of mystery novels that I quite enjoy - culinary/travel/mystery novels. The Bruno books are very reminiscent of Louise Penney's novels set in the Eastern Townships of Quebec featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache with their descriptions of gatherings of close friends and food in the village of Three Pines.  Then there's Donna Leon lovingly describing Guido Brunetti's meals at his home and various restaurants in Venice - there's even a book called Brunetti's cookbook.  Ian Hamilton goes to great lengths to describe the glories of Chinese food and to provide travel descriptions as his heroine Ava Lee flies to exotic locations.  Alexander McCall Smith's series about Precious Ramotswe of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency, features descriptions of the many delights of pumpkin while adding local colour about Botswana.  I'd appreciate any other recommendations in this genre.

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