Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker (2008) - There come moments that make me so glad I read. When I start a book and a sense of wonder comes over me drawing me into the world created by the author. Before the end of the first chapter I wanted to visit Bruno Corrèges and the town of St. Denis in the Dordogne and stay awhile and enjoy the fine food and wine. It is the same feeling I had when I read Still Life the first Armand Gamache mystery by Louise Penny and was introduced to the mythical village of Three Pines. I may write more of the similarities in my next post.
A former army veteran who served in Bosnia Bruno, no one addresses him as Chief, has been the town Chief of Police for 10 years. He enjoys people.
His aversion to computers reflects his method of policing:
They tended to get in the way of the kind of police work he understood,
which was mainly about getting to know people.
When a crime is committed he is likely to know the perpetrator before even starting his investigation.
He follows a tradition allowed fewer and fewer police. He uses discretion in enforcing the law. Small transgressions are not always prosecuted. Modern formal systems of alternative measures have had to be created to avoid criminal records for minor breaches of the law. I doubt our enforcement of law has been enhanced by bureaucratizing discretion.
Bruno is content and his community free of major crime until the elderly Hamid al-Bakr, a Harki (an Algerian who fought for France during Algeria’s war of independence) and had a Croix de Guerre on the wall of his modest home is murdered. Upon his chest has been carved a swastika.
A hate crime stirs the attention of politicians in Paris.
Tension within the nation has built as millions of North Africans have emigrated to France. The anti-immigration Front National, once limited to the far right, has been gathering support from a broader cross-section of French society.
Yet Hamid and his family do not fit the stereotype of idle North Africans practising Islam and raising large families.
Hamid was a soldier of France fighting in Vietnam as well as Algeria. His son is a math teacher. The family is secular.
Mayor Mangin and Bruno are anxious to solve the murder not only to because the killer took one of their community. They fear damage to the reputation of St.Denis and the tourist trade if the murder is widely publicized.
Can it be that there are violent members of the Front National in the commune of St. Denis? None of the residents has displayed the virulence of a true believer in the Front.
It is in Bruno’s character to care. An orphan since he was a young child he cares for all around him. It makes Bruno a better policeman.
There is sorrow in Bruno’s past. It is hard to have a new relationship when lost love, a decade later, still hurts. Bruno is doing his best to move on.
I have been unhappy with stereotypes of rural people as unsophisticated simple folk. Here there is the stereotype of a magistrate sent from Paris as a member of the urban elite with a superior attitude.
The investigation takes Bruno back into the dark days of the Nazi occupation of World War II. It is uncomfortable for there were collaborators as well as resistants. Can there be events over 60 years earlier that provoke murder?
Bruno, Chief of Police is a brilliant book. It is so convincing in its images of the land and the people of St. Denis. The story flows easily. Bruno is a great character you want to know better. It is one of my favourite books of 2019. I wish I had started the series sooner. (August 20, 2019)