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A Shooting at Chateau Rock

A Shooting at Chateau Rock is Martin Walker’s new Dordogne Mystery,  featuring Bruno, chief of police & his Basset Hound Balzac. A lot of the regular characters appear in this latest venture, and being a fan of the series, I feel like I know them all, along with Bruno’s home, his horse and the countryside round about. Set in the Dordogne Perigord region, the action takes place in and around the fictitious village of St Denis. A local farmer dies and his son visits Bruno—suspicious about his father’s death, as he had signed over his property to an  insurance company in return for a subscription to a luxury retirement home. Sceptical at first, Bruno decides to look into it, and finds that both the retirement home and the insurance company are scams linked to a Russian oligarch, already of interest of the French police. Meanwhile, an old friend of Bruno’s—ageing  British rock star, Rod Macrae—has decided to sell his home, Chateau Rock. His younger wife wants a new life The sale of the chateau prompts a family reunion. Of the various visitors an older man called Sasha causes Bruno some concern, especially after he secretly checks his documents. Another of the visitors is Galina, who turns out to be the daughter of the previously mentioned oligarch, and the scams reach all the way to the Kremlin. Of course, being a Bruno book, you can’t escape all the wonderful food and wine of the region. Bruno’s recipes are great and you get enough detail to follow along at home. I continue to find Bruno such an engaging character, and Walker’s description of the life that he leads is very attractive—I can feel the sun, see the river, and hear the noise of the market, selling all the wonderful cheese and bread. Great.

Jean-luc Bannalec’s The Missing Corpse is set in Brittany—technically France, however the locals don’t consider themselves French but rather Celtic, with ties to Scottish & welsh mythologies. It’s a very different France to Bruno’s—this the home of the Belon river, the famous oyster beds, and the Atlantic ocean, wild country with craggy cliffs and dark forests. The fifth book by Bannalec set in this area of France, the missing corpse of the title, was seen on the beach front by a stubborn, older famous film actress, who insists in no uncertain terms on its existence despite the police being unable to find it. Georges Dupin, the commissaire, later receives a phone call from the mystical hills Mount D’Arrée, where legends of Fairies and the devil abound. The caller tells him that an unidentified body has been found. Is this the same body. The mystery deepens, when corrupt lawyers and accountants enter, along with druids holding secret meetings in the forest. Plus—someone is selling substandard oysters and making a lot of money. Of course, Dupin manages to figure it all out and bring those people responsible to justice. And of course, being set in France, there is plenty to eat and drink, especially oysters. Much to his partner and friends’ disbelief, Dupin has never partaken of the local delicacy. During the novel, this reticence is put to the test. I love oysters, so I found his unwillingness hard to understand. I have read the others in the series, and enjoyed them all.

My next book is something different, although there is a bit of detecting involved. The Funny Thing about Norman Foreman by Julietta Henderson, is one of those books that get you in, almost in spite of yourself. The unfortunately named Norman Foreman has one great desire, or as we find later on he actually has two, to be a stand-up comedian. Norman is shy, bullied at school, and a loner. If things couldn’t be any worse, he also suffers from Psoriasis, with its itching and scales falling from his body. His life changes, when he meets Jax. Jax is Norman’s opposite—rather too much for some people, always in some kind of trouble. Together they develop comedy routines, Jax doing the funny lines, Norman the straight man. Their ultimate aim is the Edinburgh  Fringe Festival. When tragedy strikes and Jax is no longer around, Norman is devastated, unable to deal with his loss. Norman’s mother Sadie is unable to comfort him. Enter Leonard Cobroft, the over-seventy -year old cleaner at the car sales business where Sadie works. Leonard is abused by Dennis the boss, who only hired him to get a bonus for hiring older people. When Leonard is fired Sadie makes sure that Leonard gets all his entitlements, including two weeks leave. Sadie decides to join Leonard and takes her two weeks at the same time. Here we come Norman’s second wish, that’s when the fun begins. Sadie is surprised and concerned to learn that Norman’s other wish is to find his father—she has no idea who Norman’s father was. At a loose end, Leonard takes up the challenge, finding Norman’s father and getting him to the Fringe, as a stand-up comedian. They set off on an awfully big adventure, in Leonard’s Austin Maxi. One of the funniest scenes that follows is when Norman rescues a maybe father from a clothes dryer, helps find money owed to him in the office of a major crime boss, and then makes their escape on a moped. I could go on, but I must leave the riches in this wonderful book for you to discover for yourselves. A book to read when you are a bit down and needing your spirits lifted and the world restored to a good place.

Janice Wilder