Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bruno, Chief of Police

This odd-duck title belongs to a charming book that creates a new genre one could dub the French country cozy. Bruno is an engaging municipal policeman in the village of St. Denis, equivalent to a country constable and firmly on the bottom rung of France's elaborate law enforcement hierarchy.

An easy familiarity with that complicated hierarchy as with all things French enables Martin Walker to transport the reader into the earthy, satisfying life of southern France. Despite the macabre murder that is the focus of the plot, the reader feels bathed in simple luxuries like a homemade paté or the ubiquitous vin de noix.

Walker's lucid, quietly eloquent prose carries the reader through Bruno's idyllic existence and through the mystery of why an elderly Algerian immigrant is brutally killed. The plot is well-drawn, taking the reader into an obscure corner of French collaboration during World War II that most of us never heard of.

Bruno sometimes borders on the too-perfect realization of some male fantasies, but a bachelor in a small town really is the cock of the walk, so we accept his simultaneous flirtation with a female police officer from Paris and an English expatriate -- not to mention his heroic prowess in singlehandedly taming a small riot.

It is a quick, entertaining read and a pleasant sojourn in God's own country.

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