A not-so-cozy mystery in a wonderfully cozy setting…
In his fifteenth full-length Bruno mystery, coming out tomorrow, Martin Walker has created a wonderful mix of crime investigation, scrumptious food, Périgordian history, Bruno’s friends and colleagues, and of course, Bruno himself. And readers also get a healthy dose of Bruno’s basset hound, Balzac, and Balzac’s adorable new pup, “the Bruce”.
Together, these familiar elements provide a comfortable, almost cozy, background to a not-very-cozy tale, centered on a car accident that may or may not have been an accident, and the shell of a sniper’s bullet in the car that may or may not have been meant to be found. If the accident is real, it could provide clues to a possible terrorist attack on the local French folk group, Les Troubadours, who have gotten a bit of notoriety on the Internet over their latest tune, Song for Catalonia. If, on the other hand, the accident was staged, it might be an intentional distraction from the real attack. Bruno and his crew have to figure out what’s really going on so they can keep Les Troubadours and the local population safe, while simultaneously navigating some very tricky European politics.
All of which would be enough for a normal mystery. But in a move which turns out to be sadly prescient, given that author Martin Walker must have finished the book well before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, another key storyline in To Kill a Troubadour revolves around the concerted attempts of the Russian government to divide and weaken the West. So when Bruno muses, near the beginning of the book, that the idealism of the younger generation, who believe in the “bright and peaceful new world that had followed the Cold War”, might be running up against both the “new challenges of terrorism [and] the old and traditional forces of national ambition”, it feels all too real.
Still, many of the recent Bruno books have had hefty doses of realism intruding into their almost idyllic Périgord background, and have remained enjoyable. And To Kill a Troubadour also pulls this dichotomy off well. On a personal level, if I do have a complaint to make, it’s not about that. Rather, I wish that the Bruno/Isabelle story arc would conclude one way or another, since to me, the extended angst of that relationship just doesn’t feel in character for Bruno. I’ve been hoping for a resolution for a while though, so now I just sort of deliberately overlook the dissonance it causes and enjoy (very much) the rest of the book.
Finally, please keep in mind that I try to limit star-flation a bit, and don’t give many five-star reviews. So for me, four-and-a-half-stars is a solid “read this book” recommendation. And my thanks go to the publisher, Knopf for the review copy.