Walker, Martin - 'The Crowded Grave'
THE CROWDED GRAVE is Martin Walker's fourth novel in his series featuring the St Denis Chief of Police, Bruno Courreges.
One morning, traffic chaos visits the rural road leading to St Denis in the French gourmet heartland of Perigord. Ducks and geese from one of the local farms have escaped onto the road through vandalised fencing which now sports Animal Rights leaflets calling for a boycott of foie gras. Outraged fingers point towards the students on a nearby archaeological dig. But Chief Bruno Courreges has already been called to the dig site where they have unearthed a body - and it's not prehistoric; its hands have been bound behind its back, it's wearing a watch, and there is a bullet hole in its skull.
This is going to be a busy day for Bruno, also summoned to a meeting with the Brigadier, a senior figure in French Intelligence. There is to be a high level Franco-Spanish summit at a local chateau. The Interior Ministers of both countries are to sign an agreement over intelligence-sharing concerning the cross-border activities of the Basque terrorist organisation ETA. As the local police chief and an ex-soldier, Bruno has been seconded onto a joint security committee for the summit. And as if all this is not enough - the district is expecting the arrival of its new, young, "vegetarian feminist" magistrate. And then there is the return to St Denis of Bruno's ex-lover, now working as a member of the Brigadier's team.
It is indeed a "crowded grave" and a crowded criminal itinerary for Bruno: terrorists, animal rights activists, a decades old corpse. Even more mysteries arise as the plot accelerates from canter to gallop - missing students, missing dynamite, and a missing archaeologist.
Bruno Courreges' successful policing style favours community networking over law enforcement, particularly law enforcement wedded to "going by the book", and this results in some humorous set pieces. This approach to crime-fighting is the predominant message of the Bruno Courreges series - along with the love of country pursuits, food, wine, the landscape, and of love itself. Food descriptions in particular rate so highly that they amount to recipes, an extra enjoyment shared with Martin Walker's own "Bruno Chief of Police" website. But THE CROWDED GRAVE also displays a background knowledge of recent politico-intelligence history that is believable and informative (as would be expected from this experienced international journalist and one time Guardian Bureau Chief).
I admit to a fondness for the more gothic world of French crime writer Fred Vargas. So for my own taste THE CROWDED GRAVE is somehow too middle-England in atmosphere. But it is a very good read. Walker writes smoothly and with well constructed plots and characters. I am sure that fans of Bruno Courreges and of the district of St Denis in all its gourmet glory and rich community life will be well satisfied by THE CROWDED GRAVE.
Lynn Harvey, England