‘Bruno’s Challenges and Other Dordogne Tales’ by Martin Walker
A bumper collection of delightful stories featuring Bruno, Chief of Police and France’s favourite cop, all set in the beautiful Dordogne valley and the ravishing Perigord region of the south west. Here is a landscape of meandering rivers with medieval castles overlooking their banks, of lush hillsides and spreading vineyards, of delicious local wines and world renowned cuisine.
With titles like ‘The Chocolate War’; ‘The Birthday Lunch’; ‘Oystercatcher’; ‘A Market Tale’ and ‘Fifty Million Bubbles’, you may be sure that champagne and gastronomy will feature as well as cosy crime in ‘Dangerous Vacation’. Bruno strides through these tales, staying calm. settling local disputes and keeping safe his beloved town of St Denis.
Only on one occasion does he panic: in ‘Bruno’s Challenge’, his friend Ivan, proprietor and chef of the town’s popular eatery, suddenly collapses on the eve of a large anniversary dinner, and he asks Bruno to take over the restaurant. After a few protests followed by some deep breaths, the inimitable Bruno meets his challenge and saves the day. (Synopsis courtesy of Quercus Books)
To be honest, I’m pretty firmly on the record as a fan of Martin Walker and his Bruno novels, so this is not exactly going to be impartial criticism.
In essence, I love them.
Whenever Walker launches his noble rugby-playing, cuisine-loving, unlucky-in-love village policeman on the literary world, I’m buying it and I am ready to be transported to the Perigord: sign me up and add this destination to the bucket list, thank you very much.
Interestingly, what I do not like is short stories. Not sure why; it’s a prejudice like an aversion to sci-fi or the ballet. I can understand that these things might have appeal, but I kind of feel like it’s not for me.
Except, these are for me. I’d actually purchased the festive story, Le Père Noël, previously as a Kindle single and it bears re-reading as it is a lovely showcase for Bruno’s generosity of spirit which is at the heart of this series of stories.
The other delight of this collection of stories are two-fold. Firstly, the gang’s (nearly) all here: Pamela, the Mad Englishwoman – who is neither mad nor English which is charming as ever – Isabelle, the itch Bruno can never scratch, Florence, the schoolteacher who Bruno saved and installed at the local école and who is the woman the fans think he should end up with. Jack Crimson, retired intelligence agent assisting Bruno as he encounters various dangers, and his daughter Miranda who now works with Pamela and the horses. Finally, local doctor Fabiola and her partner Gilles, late of Paris Match and Sarajevo where he initially met our war hero Bruno, are all present and correct and often eating.
Secondly, there is the regional cuisine of the Perigord. Walker, Bruno and his fictional friends are all dedicated to these regional delicacies: as are Walker’s daughters Kate and Fanny who appear to be instrumental in the cookbook which exists (only in German at the moment, although I’ve heard tell of an English language translation on the horizon). It is this passion which sees stories of cooking flood through this collection like flavours layered in a well-made Cassoulet.
And so I have been converted to the short story as a form, at least when it brings my old fictional friends a-calling and leaves me sated for their company but hungry for dinner.
After a long career of working in international journalism and for think tanks, Martin Walker 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