Fatal Pursuit: A novel (Bruno, Chief of Police Series)
In this cozy police procedural set in the cozy French town of St. Denis, we have book nine of the cozy series about Bruno, Chief of Police.
The novel is nicely done, but for review purposes a caveat is in order: New readers must be Francophiles and/or foodies to really groove on Bruno’s world. Established fans will find everything they already love, whereas whodunit fans attracted by the title and expecting a brisk and exciting crime novel should be prepared to skim. The crime is there but the briskness is not. The first half of the book is like swimming through molasses until all the pieces suddenly start coming together into an intriguing mystery and the police procedure accelerates.
At the center of the mystery is a car: an extremely rare (only four ever made), extremely valuable (tens of millions of dollars), and extremely gorgeous Bugatti, which disappeared into the French countryside during World War II. Walker has done his homework and constructed a credible discovery of this vehicle, being hunted by multiple characters for multiple reasons.
In the process we learn a great deal about the Périgord region of France. It seems romantic and idyllic, and perhaps really is; the author lives there and writes of it in passionate detail. He makes us want to join the happy inhabitants. They’re a busy bunch, always hosting events, making a living in interesting ways, and dreaming up great places to enjoy wonderful food—“a nation that still liked to define itself by the way it ate.”
In this regard the story works. The crime arises naturally from the people and place, which is why it takes so long for the mystery plot to get rolling. Chief Bruno is involved directly or peripherally in each of the threads that entwine, it being his job to know what’s going on and broker the peace among squabbling factions. He is an affable fellow who has a knack for steering people back onto productive courses and tactfully resolving difficulties. No zooming around with sirens howling and firearms banging for him, even when his case becomes part of an international terrorist investigation.
Like with most series, it helps to have read at least one previous volume in order to recognize and track recurring characters. Entering this series at book nine leaves one confused for much of the novel, because there are many secondary characters and they don’t have strong “tags” that make them easy to hold in mind.
As well, monolingual English speakers will find it either enlightening or irritating to have so many French words tossed at them in the narrative. Presumably this is to build the story’s ambience; but, really, why use notaire when it’s obvious we’re talking about a notary, and département when it’s obvious we’re talking about a department, and the story is written in English?
In sum, it takes some work to enter this novel as a stranger, but those who persevere will find a living world populated by charming people and be rewarded with a challenging brain-teaser.