Here is another mystery series with an engaging detective and a charming setting that I happened upon recently but don't remember how. I'm not usually drawn to mysteries set anywhere but in England or small-town USA, but this story about a very small town in France profonde is tremendously appealing.
The town of St Denis has had a weekly market since 1346 and the townspeople don't take kindly to interference from health inspectors from the European Union coming around to make sure there is a date on every single egg they are selling, that the poultry has been killed in a hygenic manner, and the cheese is made from pasteurized milk. In fact, there's one vendor who buys eggs in the grocery store, rubs off the date, rolls the eggs in chicken manure and straw, and sells them to tourists as "farm fresh" at a Euro each, but nobody from the town thinks that is something the men from Brussles should be poking into.
Bruno isn't really the chief of police in St Denis. He's the only police. He works with (or sometimes against) the gendarmes, which are a national quasi-military police force. This requires a good deal of finesse and political savvy. The book is a user's manual for the bureaucratically overwhelmed. How to avoid gendarme DUI citations, techniques to disable the rental cars of European Union busybodies, what to say to convince pig-headed magistrates to release obviously innocent suspects.
But the murder in Bruno, Chief of Police, is not quite so amusing. A very old man has been killed in a particularly nasty way and his Legion of Honor medal has been stolen, along with a photo of the champion soccer team he led in 1940. Because he is a North African immigrant the initial suspects are right-wing political activists. His son is a respected math teacher at the local high school and his grandson is a friend of Bruno and a fellow rugby player. Most of the town is appalled at the thought that this might be a hate killing.
But there are reasons to be nervous about immigrants in modern France. There are millions of Muslims who have arrived in recent years with no intention of assimilating. There are riots and burned cars and other unrest perpetrated by unruly Islamists. People don't always distinguish between these threatening people and the Muslims who have been part of the community for 50 years.
The few local communists decide to use the murder as an excuse to demonstrate against racism and the mayor, being no fool, takes over the demonstration, turns it into a march to honor a murdered Frenchman who has won the Legion d'honneur, invites the school children to come along, and has Bruno on the alert for trouble. And indeed, left-wing thugs are bussed in to start a riot, which is quickly quelled with the help of the rugby team, who have turned out en masse.
Using the photo of the dead man's old soccer team and with the help of an English researcher who is visiting the area, Bruno is able to figure out the motive for the murder and with that he knows who did it. But this presents even more difficult problems.
An excellent mystery, a fine combination of quirky characters, local color, good food, and a little detective work. Bruno, Chief of Police is by American Martin Walker, who has a home in the Dordogne.
2012 No 51