A Shooting at Chateau Rock by Martin Walker
Every avid crime fiction reader has glaring gaps in their library, the Chief Inspector Bruno novels of Martin Walker are one of mine – until now. As the Dordogne mysteries reach a baker’s dozen I make my first foray into the crime world of the Périgord region of France and find myself wishing I could be there for real – murderer/criminals on the loose or not! Covid-19 aside the Dordogne tourist board must be thankful for Walker’s novels for their love of place and beautiful descriptions of local life, (this is Walker’s own home). The setting is superb; the sense of community and camaraderie, of small town friendships and interconnectivity, feels very authentic and genuinely warm. The novel has a very easy, almost laid-back style and the way the mystery plays out fits snuggly into that and yet there is depth here and the tension and darkness do ramp up significantly. There’s a wonderful contrast between the beauty of the landscape and nefarious dealings that surface through Bruno’s investigation. This is consummate storytelling, a highly entertaining read.
It all begins with suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Driant, a local farmer. Notaire Brosseil has handled the Driant family business for years but when their father dies Gaston and Claudette find out that he travelled to Perigueux to make a new will only a few days earlier, using the expensive services of a notiare new to the region. He sold the farm to an insurance company below market value and then gave all the money to a five star care home for the elderly – the place he apparently intended to live out his life. When the post man found the body of his friend Dr Gallereau certified a heart attack, Driant senior had an ongoing condition and the doctor had recommended a pace maker so it didn’t seem out of the ordinary. When the Perigueux notaire informed Gaston and Claudette of the new will disinheriting them they became suspicious. Gaston Driant came to see Chief Inspector Bruno Courrèges at the Mairie in St. Denis to discuss his concerns. Even if his father was to go into a retirement home this hardly seemed the kind of place he would choose. As Driant was in his seventies a new will would have to be witnessed and his competence established. There’s no doubt for Bruno some questions need answering: Were all the formalities followed? Why didn’t Driant use notaire Brosseil? And, who was the young woman seen around the widower’s farm just before he died? As Bruno looks into the matter it seems to link to a Russian oligarch already on the national police radar.
Bruno also learns that Chateau Rock will soon be on the market soon which comes as a surprise because he is a good friend of the owner former rock star Rod Macrea and his wife Meghan. Together with their two children they and been part of the community for two decades. The children are now grown up and the couple are getting divorced. The Macraes are planning one last family get together for the summer before moving on. Son, Jamie arrives from London with his new girlfriend Galina. But Galina just happens to be the daughter of the very same oligarch Bruno is already investigating. Now isn’t that a remarkable coincidence?
This is a gentle but also substantial murder mystery, a rough one for Bruno. Nothing is forced, the early signs of darkness are masked by the idyllic setting but nonetheless its brewing away. This is a seductive and engaging read. It’s a satisfying mystery that almost appears to be giving too much away at the beginning as we find out more about farmer Driant death but there is much more going on. Some way in A Shooting at Chateau Rock readers will realise that it hasn’t actually happened yet, the story is building to it, engendering a sense of anticipation. A complex and relevant modern mystery unfolds slowly. Martin Walker was a superb journalist and it turns out he’s a very good crime novelist too. Highly recommended fun.
Quercus hardback, ISBN 9781787477681, May 25th.

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