A British tourist goes missing while travelling to the Périgord region of France and Benoît “Bruno” Courrèges, Chief of Police in the quaint little village of St. Denis, tries to find out what happened to her.
This is the 11th entry in the series and the shine is starting to wear off I think. I greatly enjoyed the first few books, but this one has some problems. First of all, the murder mystery is linked to a terrorism plot and the IRA, and soon several international intelligence agencies get involved. I found the whole story line to be unnecessarily convoluted and a little hard to believe, although I liked the background information Walker provided. On top of that, there is a subplot about a young rugby player whose possible advancement to the women’s national team is impeded by an unintended pregnancy. The book supports the pro-choice stance wholeheartedly but the way abortion was treated lacked not only any kind of emotional impact but also the depth this subject warrants.
Also a problem is, in some respects, the depiction of women. It is not as obvious in the first few books, but over time a pattern emerges. There are a lot of professional and independent women in the stories which of course is great, but Walker often makes them seem so difficult to get along or to have a relationship with solely due to their ambitions, which bothers me because it’s such a cliché. Bruno, for instance, is hung up on a policewoman who left him for better career opportunities in Paris, but she pops up now and then, only to leave again at the end of the books. She is tough, competent, and very ambitious which she never hid from Bruno, and he, who wants a wife and children, never really moves on and instead laments the fact that he always falls for these women who don’t need him. The result is that over the course of several installments she becomes more and more unlikable because it’s made out to appear like she is using him, when in fact she never gave him any false hope. At this point, Walker doesn’t seem to know what to do with her character anymore, and I wonder why he doesn’t break them up for good instead of further demonizing her. In this installment there is also a journalist who Bruno has some rather unkind thoughts about, and not only because she is an overly tenacious reporter, but he also likens her to his sometimes lover in an unfavourable way due to both their perceived careerism. It’s just not clear to me whether Walker harbours some hidden resentment for ambitious women or just doesn’t have the aptitude to write nuanced female characters.
However, there are also a lot of positives. It is clear that Walker loves this part of France because it shines through in his meticulous descriptions of the people, the land, and the culture, and especially the wine and food. As a reader, it’s easy to become immersed in this world and its way of life that is filled with charm and joie de vivre. Although terrible things like murder happen there, it is an idealized place where people grow their own food, barter with each other, and just live in a great community. Bruno, in general, is very likable and always tries to do the right thing, even if it sometimes goes against his (rather conservative) beliefs. At times he seems a little superhuman, and therefore unrealistic, but that doesn’t really affect the quality of the stories.
In conclusion, if you are interested in this series start with the first books, because they are really enjoyable and the perfect fare for a rainy day on the couch, but maybe stop before you reach this one.