‘The Coldest Case’ by Martin Walker
An anonymous skull, an unsolved murder, sinister rumors from the Cold War era of espionage–Bruno’s investigation into a long-standing cold case finds him caught between an enigmatic winegrower and a menacing Communist organization from the past.
After attending an exhibit on the facial reconstruction of ancient skulls, Bruno wonders if this technology might provide an invaluable clue to a thirty-year-old cold case. But learning the identity of the murder victim is only the beginning.
The investigation quickly turns thorny and leads Bruno to a reclusive vintner, Henri Bazaine, whose education at a vocational school in a formerly Communist region has raised some eyebrows. An inquiry into the defunct school turns up shadowy reports of possible connections and funding from the Stasi, the repressive police agency of the former East Germany. The scrutiny on Henri intensifies once Bruno discovers that he was declared dead thirty years ago and has been living under an assumed name ever since.
The strange case is further complicated as Parisian bureaucrats get involved, hinting that essential diplomatic relations might be at stake. And to make matters even worse, the Dordogne is suffering from an intense summer drought that is sparking fires across the region. But as always, Bruno will keep a cool head through it all–and, bien sûr, takes time to enjoy a sumptuous Périgordian meal!
Blurb courtesy of Penguin Randomhouse
In 2008, I paid an amount of money I am now horrified to recall, to go to the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival.
Before I left the small, Highland village I was then living in, I paid a visit to its delightful little bookshop and picked up a paperback copy of Martin Walker’s debut novel, Bruno Chief of Police (now known as Death in the Dordogne I believe) on the strength of a friendly little cover illustration and the blurb on the back.
I gulped that opening instalment down and – by the time I got to Harrogate – I had already pre-ordered the then upcoming sequel, The Dark Vineyard, in hardback and was sufficiently impressed to rather shyly and haltingly stop Walker in the street to tell him that I was terribly sorry but could I just tell him how much I enjoyed his book.
He was graciousness itself and told me never to worry about saying that to an author, which seems like good advice. I’ve also remained a loyal fan of the series which now extends to The Coldest Case, the fourteenth episode in the life and adventures of Chef de Police, Bruno Courreges.
To be honest, most reviewers focus on the setting and the cooking. I have been close to the Perigourd but never had the pleasure. It sounds idyllic. I’m also very pleased to learn that next year will see a release of Bruno’s cookbook in an English translation – till now only available in German.
Personally, however, whilst I love a nice description of a prehistoric cave or of Bruno whistled rendition of the Marseillaise being the perfect length of time to boil an egg, my love of the series is because of the characters and the fact that these are tightly plotted, espionage-tinged stories with enough in them to satisfy any true genre fan.
Walker is clearly interested in the Cold War, it’s ripple-like effects on the present day and the intricacies of the complex working of the French security services and the way they intersect with someone on the lowest of shop floors – even if they are a Croix de Guerre holder constantly being seconded to the Interior Ministry like Bruno.
All in all, these are possibly the most underrated series of novels in the crime/espionage genre currently available today and – considering there is a top notch set of audiobook narrated by Peter Noble available – there is really no excuse for not entering the world of Bruno and St Denis.
Martin Walker, after a long career of working in international journalism and for think tanks, now gardens, cooks, explores vineyards, writes, travels, and has never been more busy. He divides his time between Washington, D.C., and the Dordogne. You can find more about Walker at his website, http://www.brunochiefofpolice.com/about-the-author.html