Tue 10 Sep 2013
Reviews by L. J. Roberts
MARTIN WALKER – The Crowded Grave. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, July 2012. Vintage, trade paperback, April 2013.
Genre: Police procedural. Leading character: Bruno Courrèges, 4th in series. Setting: Provence, France.
First Sentence: For once, the chef de police of the small French town of St. Denis was carrying a gun.
It is a busy time for police chief Bruno Courrèges. Local farmers of geese and ducks are being set upon by members of PETA who oppose fois gras. A local archeology site has turned up four skeletons — three that could cause a significant change in the science of evolution, one much more recent who was murdered — and now the head of the dig has gone missing.
A high level summit is about to take place between representatives of France and Spain over the Basque separatists. And Bruno has two attractive women and a new magistrate with whom he must contend.
Walker’s evocative descriptions transport one to the sights, sound, smells and tastes of Provence. Each book being set in a different season—in this case, Spring—heightens the experience even further.
Bruno is a very likeable and appealing character. He is very much part of his small community and protective of its residents. He is part of their lives and understands them. His approach to law enforcement is always to abide within the letter of the law, but to do what is just, and provides the best solution to the people involved.
An excellent descriptions comes from Bruno himself, “He could imagine what young magistrates might think of him, an ex-soldier who hunted and drank and who tired never to arrest anyone and cared little for the subtleties of modern law enforcement with its counseling and political correctness.” although this makes him seem harsher than he is.
The woman he most loves now lives in Paris and he can’t imagine life anywhere but in St. Denis. It also leaves out that he built his own house, grows most of his own food, makes wine, rides horses, and cooks. The descriptions of food and its preparation were mouth-watering and somewhat amusing. Above all, he is no one’s fool.
I always learn something from Walker’s books. The archeological information is fascinating with the subject of the dig being a discovery that could change thoughts of the evolution of man from Neanderthal to Cro-Magnin. There was also and interesting, and well-handled, perspective given on the controversy over fois gras.
However, some of the history from WWII, the French Resistance, the Spanish Civil War, the Basque separatists, and the “Dirty War” in Argentina, was a bit confusing to me. I certainly know of them all, but not necessarily how they fit together politically. Still, it made me look things up and was fascinating.
It also led to a moment of introspection… “Generation after generation, so many bodies must lie scattered in the soil of France, so many battlefields where the bones must lie thickly together. … France is built on a heap of bones, he thought; we are the sum of all the dead that went before us.”
The Crowded Grave is a very good read. It has all the best elements of character, sense of place, a bit of humor, some suspense, and a compelling plot. I’m happy to say the next book is already waiting for me.
Rating: Very Good