July 11, 2013

Fine flavors and a little murder

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It’s springtime in the village of St. Denis in the French province of Dordogne. Flowers bloom, the church choir rehearses for Easter, corks pop from wine bottles, the outdoor market displays delicious treats . . . and the dead body of a nude woman drifts lazily down the river in an abandoned rowboat.

Here’s where Benoît “Bruno” Courrèges enters—or should we say ambles—into Martin Walker’s latest mystery novel featuring the popular village Chief of Police.

The Devil’s Cave marks the fifth entry in the Bruno crime series, which contains village adventures both culinary and murderous. A sunny village atmosphere stands in sharp contrast to murky goings-on, and Bruno seems equally at home pursuing criminal activities in this deceptively rustic setting as he does cooking in his small farmhouse kitchen, whipping up a mouth-watering meal of smoked ham, white asparagus and new potatoes with dandelion buds sautéed in butter.

The French countryside gets a little bit darker in the newest mystery starring Bruno, Chief of Police.

The relaxed yet resolute detective enjoys sharing a glass of wine with his friends, horseback riding, feeding his chickens, maneuvering between girlfriends and cooking gourmet repasts, but he proves just as adept when he takes charge of the gruesome crime scene, where the floating body is surrounded by black candles and marked by crude symbols indicating a connection to the black arts. Bruno is soon called upon to explore the “Devil’s Cave,” a local tourist attraction containing caverns, an underground river and a silent, dark lake, where the trappings of a strange occult Mass are discovered, seemingly connected to the woman on the river.

Complications ensue as well-heeled visitors descend on the town as part of a group hoping to develop a “vacation village” near St. Denis. At the same time, relatives surface who may be connected to the estate of the aging, comatose local resident known to all as the Red Countess, whose infamous activities date back to the French Resistance during World War II. A local case of domestic abuse is followed by a second death that appears to be an accident. All these separate occurrences initiate an investigation that leads Bruno to a common thread that weaves them all together, and to a dark and exciting dénouement set deep underground.

The Devil’s Cave brings to life a pastoral setting where the gourmet menu is as spicy as the sex, and where readers can share in the timeless beauty of the French countryside, laced with a little murder.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a 7 questions interview with Martin Walker for The Devil's Cave.

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