Series: Bruno Chief of Police #1
Published by Vintage on April 6, 2010 (first published 2008)
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The first installment in a series that follows the exploits of Benoît Courrèges, a policeman in a small French village where the rituals of the café still rule. Bruno -- as he is affectionately nicknamed -- may be the town's only municipal policeman, but in the hearts and minds of its denizens, he is chief of police.
Bruno is a former soldier who has embraced the pleasures and slow rhythms of country life -- living in his restored shepherd's cottage; patronizing the weekly market; sparring with, and basically ignoring, the European Union bureaucrats from Brussels. He has a gun but never wears it; he has the power to arrest but never uses it. But then the murder of an elderly North African who fought in the French army changes everything and galvanizes Bruno's attention: the man was found with a swastika carved into his chest.
Because of the case's potential political ramifications, a young policewoman is sent from Paris to aid Bruno with his investigation. The two immediately suspect militants from the anti-immigrant National Front, but when a visiting scholar helps to untangle the dead man's past, Bruno's suspicions turn toward a more complex motive. His investigation draws him into one of the darkest chapters of French history -- World War II, a time of terror and betrayal that set brother against brother. Bruno soon discovers that even his seemingly perfect corner of la belle France is not exempt from that period's sinister legacy.
Bruno is the only municipal policeman in the small town of St. Denis, France. He’s a good guy, he is not a brooding policeman, he is not corrupt, he is not plagued by guilt, he does not go renegade. He’s a good guy. He teaches tennis to local kids, he organizes parades, he makes sure the “hygiene” police don’t catch locals selling cheese that doesn’t meet the standards. He also cooks and has a wonderful vegetable garden. In general, the people of the town get along, with a couple of minor exceptions.
And then the murder occurs. An Algerian grandfather is found brutally murdered in his cabin, a swastika carved into his chest and his medal of honor and a treasured photo missing. Members of the right-wing National Front, a political party that opposes immigration, immediately rise to the top of the suspect list. Given the background between France and Algeria, along with some anti-immigration sentiment, the investigation is politically sensitive, so detectives are sent in from the National Police to take over the case. Of course Bruno is kept in the loop and continues his own digging around. He begins to understand that the solution lies in the past, not in the current immigration argument.
The setting is lovely; I would love to visit the area. And all the food Bruno and others cook sounds so delicious. The author did a good job tying the history of France and Algeria during WW 2 into the story. The plot itself is maybe a little simple, but Bruno, his friends and his town are what make the story shine. I’ll definitely pick up the second in the series sooner rather than later.