Just before dawn one late-summer morning, Captain Bruno Courrèges is roused from sleep by the wail of the town siren atop the Mairie, summoning the volunteer firemen of St Denis. Bruno, the only policeman in the small Périgord town, follows the fire engines towards the site of a large barn, now engulfed in flames, the surrounding fields ablaze. Everything points to arson.
A Californian wine maker is planning to buy up half the valley to create a huge wine-producing operation. But opinions are divided. When another outrage follows the crop burning, it appears that someone is determined to stop the scheme and is prepared to go to any lengths including murder to do so.
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An unfortunate mismatch
Martin Walker's books adapt well to audio, but in this case the print version is far superior.
Bruno is a thoroughly endearing character, with interesting hints of a difficult start in life but a deep devotion to the part of France where he now makes his home. The book is set in France, and Martin Walker brings to life the traditions and pleasures that really are still there after the tourists have gone home. But the picture of the friendly, familiar local copper also draws on a long and esteemed tradition including Dixon of Dock Green, Barnaby and Lewis---although the British-type nature of the character only occurred to me when I heard this reading.
Bill Wallis reads well, with good pace and clear diction, but he is an unhappy choice for this particular character. Bruno is meant to be a youngish (40-ish) French policeman; Bill Wallis makes him sound very much like Wexford--an elderly Englishman. Regional accents too draw on various unidentified bits of the UK; and the ladies' voices all sound like querulous old women. Finally, his French pronunciation can be quite distracting: Perigueux, the capital city of the Perigord, is pronounced with 3 syllables ---per-i-gueux, not 4--- per-i-fu-eux. The second 'u' is not pronounced, its only purpose being to harden the 'g'.Bill Wallis is an accomplished reader, and in something like Dickens or Trollope he would be magnificent. He is just an unfortunate mismatch for this particular book.
This is a gentle detective story, without lots of violence and gore, but with an original plot that draws on Martin Walker's knowledge of this specific and very beautiful part of France.
- Kl Love