A Chateau Under Siege by Martin Walker: An atmospheric and wonderfully complex whodunit - book review -
The considerable sleuthing talents of Lieutenant Bruno Courrèges are tested to the limit again in the sixteenth book of Martin Walker’s enchanting, French-flavoured series which stars an astute, epicurean detective with a taste for food, vin rouge… and crime.
Lovers of clever mysteries, social and political history, stunning scenery, excellent cuisine, and the very best of French wines, have enjoyed sharing the past fifteen years with the smart, likeable Bruno in Walker’s exceptionally entertaining novels.
A prize-winning historian and journalist who spends most of his time in the Périgord region – the lush, gastronomic heartland of France – Walker has mastered the fine art of harnessing intriguing murder mysteries with paeans to his adopted country’s rich history, landscape, food and culture to dish up stories with an addictive brand of Gallic charm.
And at the heart of these witty, wonderful novels is the laidback Bruno, a bon viveur with a brain as discerning as his palate… a man who can crack crime in the fictional settlement of St Denis whilst cracking open a bottle of the best Château Bélingard.
In his new mystery, we meet Bruno at THE event of the Périgord tourist season... a re-enactment of the liberation of the beautiful medieval town of Sarlat from the English in 1370. But it all goes wrong when the man playing the part of the famous French general, Bertrand du Guesclin, receives serious stab wounds in the heat of the action.
The immediate question for Bruno is was this stabbing an accident... or a deliberate act? And the stakes rise when Bruno learns that the victim, Brice Kerquelin, is a computer expert running Frenchelon, the secret French electronic intelligence base nearby, after being recruited from a brilliant career in Silicon Valley.
In fact, Kerquelin’s old Silicon Valley colleagues have been invited to stay at the luxurious local château of Rouffillac as Kerquelin’s guests to enjoy the Sarlat show, and they will now need extra protection. But, as Bruno investigates, he discovers that Kerquelin’s wound was faked, that he is alive and well, and secretly negotiating a massive deal to build a semi-conductor industry in France.
What Bruno doesn’t expect is the emergence of a whole new and dangerous player... a player who is determined to nip the important deal in the bud, and poses a threat to the town Bruno polices, and the people he protects.
Walker’s richly descriptive and captivating series shows no sign of flagging as we meet up again with Bruno and his warm and sociable milieu, and follow an intriguing case which takes the wily detective from the beauty of Périgord into the dark heart of a looming war in Ukraine, the schemes of a bunch of rogue Russians, and the ever-present threat from China.
But this being gourmet Bruno, he also has time to serve up some sumptuous Périgordian meals, whether that’s an exquisitely simple but tasty dish of devilled eggs or a mouthwatering French-style concoction of chicken tarragon with rice.
And it is this eclectic mix which has turned Walker’s amiable detective into the culinary crime king of rural France as these must-read, atmospheric and wonderfully complex whodunits magically morph into wish-you-were-here feasts accompanied by plentiful side-helpings of crime and intrigue.
Murder mysteries with a quintessentially French dressing…
(Quercus, hardback, £22)