Old Friends and Home Cooked Meals

‘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)
https://www.quercusbooks.co.uk/titles/martin-walker/brunos-challenge-other-dordogne-tales/9781529418125

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.

https://pajnewman.com/2021/05/27/a-warm-heart-for-a-cold-case/

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 destination added 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 and 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.

Purchase Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/search/ref=sr_adv_b/?field-isbn=9781529418125&tag=hachetteuk-21

Apple: http://geo.itunes.apple.com/gb/book/isbn9781529418125?app=music&at=10lwkR

Bookshop.org: https://uk.bookshop.org/books/bruno-s-challenge-other-dordogne-tales/9781529418101

Google: https://play.google.com/store/search?q=9781529418125&c=books

Kobo: http://kobobooks.com/search/search.html?q=9781529418125

EBook.com: http://www.ebooks.com/aff.asp?AID=42562&term=9781529418125&CreditorID:6500

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/brunos-challenge-and-other-dordogne-tales/martin-walker/9781529418101

Martin Walker

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

A Warm Heart for a Cold Case

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