When I was looking for a book to read, I picked a number and randomly chose this one. I have no idea how it came to my attention or how it ended up on my list. Judging by the cover and description alone, this is not one I would normally pick up. If you simply look at these two things you will expect to read a cozy mystery but that is simply not the case. While the setting is quaint and the characters colorful, this is not a simple light mystery.
The story centers around the small French commune of St. Denis and their Municipal police officer, Bruno. Bruno is no simple small town cop. He is connected closely with the mayor and has a complex history with a history of service to France. He spends his days dealing with minor issues and helping resolve them while looking out for the good of his community. The sleepy café town is rocked when an elderly war hero is brutally murdered in his rural cabin. Not only is he a war hero but he was also an Algerian Muslim and the fears of the mass immigration from Muslim countries is stoked. As the mystery unfolds, dark secrets are exposed and Bruno’s resolve is tested and he faces what is best for his town and what the law requires.
A spectacular introduction to the author. I have never been one for “cozy” mysteries but after years of reading crime mysteries that have become progressively darker, it is such a relief to find a mature and compelling mystery with excellent sense of place and colorful characters. While there is extensive discussion on the qualities of French wine and the review of the pleasant formalities of a small French café town, the novel is never cute or silly. The fact is, the novel deals with some serious issues of racism, fears related to immigration and years of French policy and war. While this is not gritty as other small town crime mysteries, i.e. Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series, it is not akin to a mystery such as “The Long Quiche Goodbye” or some other novel with a cutesy name.
For myself, the sense of setting was a major draw in this book. The author went to great lengths to make the town a character in the story with its own personality, feelings and history. The ability to create this quaint feelings and than bring real concerns such as murder and racism into this idyllic setting was expertly done. Although I may be repeating myself, I enjoyed the balance between the quaint and the gritty. The result was a wonderful reading experience.
If you only want to read about gruesome serial murders or only want dark and grisly world of authors such as Mo Hayder, you may not enjoy this. If you want to read about a place you would like to visit and competent people to face the serious business that fall upon them, this is the novel for you. In my opinion, this strikes the perfect balance between entertaining mystery and wonderful setting while exposing us to many colorful characters. At the time of writing this, I am already reading the third in the series and will continue to read on. I highly recommend this one and suggest you give it a try!
Can this one stand alone Yes. It is the first book of the series.
Sex – 2.5
There are a few sex scenes but they are not explicit. Bruno is relatively young and unmarried. He is not adverse to adult relationships. The characters often find themselves commenting on the qualities of the women but again, it is not explicit.
There is mild use of language throughout. Some of the language is French and I only assume they are swearing. It is hard to be offended if you don’t know what they are saying!
Violence – 2.5
There main storyline focus around a murder in the town. It is moderately graphic. There is some discussion of horrors of war and some elements of racism. There is some fisticuffs but nothing too graphic in that regard.