Martin Walker’s mystery series starring Bruno, Chief of Police, will make readers’ mouths water and keep those pages turning with an entertaining blend of fine food and murder. Walker sets his series in the French province of Dordogne where he spends much of his time, and through this series, gives the idyllic little village of St. Denis a rather sinister side.
We chatted with Walker about writing, the French countryside and the fifth book in his series, The Devil’s Cave. After reading these answers, we suggest giving Walker a seat at your fantasy dinner party—and letting him choose the wine!
Describe your book in one sentence.
The body of a lovely nude woman, daubed with a pentagram, floats down the river into the picturesque French town of St. Denis, plunging the dashing local police chief Bruno into an investigation that includes Satanism, the French defense industry, prostitution, a shady property empire, a famous cave and an elderly and very left-wing French countess, along with some splendid meals, fine wine and dangerously attractive women.
Bruno has his hands full with all these murders in the French countryside. Why such dark deeds in this charming atmosphere?
This is the very question put to me by my friend Pierrot, the local police chief. But crime takes place anywhere, and this gentle valley in southwestern France has more history packed within it than anywhere on earth, from the prehistoric cave paintings of the Cro-Magnons, the hundreds of medieval châteaus and the importance of the local Resistance during World War II. And with the prevalence of hunters and shotguns, lethal farm tools, property disputes and France’s complex inheritance laws, there is no shortage of means or motives.
“With the prevalence of hunters and shotguns, lethal farm tools, property disputes and France’s complex inheritance laws, there is no shortage of means or motives.”
If you had to swap places with Bruno for a day, how would that day go?
I’d probably be able to win my tennis games and maybe even cook meals as well as he does. But my inability to match Bruno’s ability to combine policing with humor, common sense and his very idiosyncratic sense of justice might well cause a riot in our placid small town. And I’d certainly bring about a horrendous traffic jam.
You’ve said that Bruno is inspired by the real Chief of Police in the Dordogne, who is also your tennis partner. How does your friend feel about the Bruno books?
Now that he’s appearing in TV shows and tourists are flocking to the town market and asking him to sign their books and pose for photos, he’s delighted with the attention, and so are the town’s small business owners. But his wife wants to know why I made my hero such an attractive and appealing bachelor. For the same reason that she married him, is my reply.
What do you love most about writing?
There sometimes comes a moment of pure magic, when a character I invented simply refuses to do what the synopsis and plot says he or she should. On one level, it’s a problem because it means re-thinking the story, but it’s marvelous to realize that fictional characters can take on a life of their own.
If someone were visiting the Dordogne this summer, what would you insist that they eat and drink for their first meal?
I’d start with a fresh vegetable soup made with stock from chicken bones, and then serve a glass of golden Monbazillac wine with a slice of foie gras. The main course would be a duck roasted with honey and mustard and served with pommes sarladaises (made with truffles and parsley and cooked in duck fat), with a bottle of a Pecharmant red wine from Château de Tiregand, 2009, followed by salad from my garden, a slice of my friend Stephane’s Tomme d’Audrix cheese and fresh strawberries with cream from Stephane. (In fact, that’s what I’m cooking for tonight.)
I start a U.S. book tour in mid-July, and I’m currently writing the seventh Bruno novel, which starts with a corpse in the woods and goes on to the secrets behind the sanctuary a local farm gave to some Jewish children during the war, while also working on the Bruno cookbook and preparing to welcome a German film crew who are making a TV series.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of The Devil’s Cave.