Remembrance of things better left forgotten

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

A LEGACY OF SPIES. By John le Carre. Read by Tom Hollander. Penguin Audio. 8 ½ hours; 7 CDs. $40.

legacyCould it be? With word that John le Carre had written another novel, and this one bringing back George Smiley after many years of absence, legions of fans hoped that the master spy writer, now 86, still has his magic touch.

The answer, of course, is yes. A Legacy of Spies is another masterful work of literature – his books are never “just” spy stories – from one of the most thoughtful and gifted writers of the last century and this one.

As the story begins, Peter Guillam, who worked closely for and with Smiley, receives an unwelcome letter from their longtime employer, the British Secret Service. Peter has been living quietly in retirement on his family’s farm in Brittany, trying not to think much about his career, but now he’s being ordered to come to London.

It seems that, much as Peter might like to leave the past behind, others have a different idea. He finds himself being interrogated about some of operations he was involved with years earlier, operations that are even more difficult to explain now that the Cold War is over. People who had no experience of the Cold War and its prevailing sense that sometimes, the ends did justify the means, are asking questions that Peter would rather not think about, much less answer.

Deftly, le Carre moves between the present and the past, so that we gradually learn more about both what happened years earlier and what transpires as Peter deals with this intrusion.

This book revisits events le Carre chronicled in two of his most popular books: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It’s a testament to the nuances and depths of le Carre’s works that he can give us such intriguing new insight into what happened back then. It’s not necessary to have read those previous books to enjoy this new one, but for those who haven’t, it’s probably a good idea to read the earlier ones first. Reading this one will no doubt make you want to find those, and that way you’ll be able to appreciate them without already knowing what’s revealed in Legacy.

This relatively short book doesn’t have a great deal of physical action, but there’s all the suspense, mystery and intrigue of any good le Carre tale. Smiley doesn’t appear as much as we might perhaps hope, but he’s always there, fittingly, in the shadows.

Part of the genius of le Carre’s books has always been the tension between the morality and humanity of his characters and the jobs that they take on. How far are they willing to go, how far must they go to do what should be done? Is what they are trying to accomplish even the right thing? And what toll do their actions take on their souls? They know better than anyone that things are not always – even often – clear cut, black and white.

Now we see these complex characters in their later years, with more time to reflect and relive.

Tom Hollander reads the audio version with just the right note of restraint, thoughtfulness and occasional dry humor.

 

 

 

 

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Watch out for Miss (Deputy) Kopp

Bob Moyer takes a slight diversion into history and an entertaining novel based on the true story of a woman crime fighter.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

MISS KOPP’S MIDNIGHT CONFESSIONS. By Amy Stewart. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 384 pages. $26.

KoppDon’t judge this book by its cover. Although the titillating title suggests some salacious material inside, there is none, nor is there much crime involved. Instead, between the covers of this third book in the series is a carefully crafted historical novel, based on the true story of the Kopp sisters circa 1916.

Constance, the star of the series, was the first deputy sheriff in America. Newspapers and tabloids across America trumpeted her adventures at the time. Her sisters play supporting roles: Norma as the curmudgeonly caretaker of the household, Fleurette as the fledgling starlet flirting with a life behind the footlights.

Those are the archived bones of the Kopp sisters upon which author Amy Stewart hangs her fictional narrative. As matron of the Hackensack jail, Constance comes up daily against the male-dominated system, in the time before women even had the vote. Her daily struggles are an implicit part of the storyline here.

On a larger scale, the author uses the deputy’s occupation to highlight the plight of young women brought into the jail on charges of waywardness and moral depravity, charges that can be brought simply because a family reports that a girl under the age of 21 left home, or may be cohabiting, with no charges leveled against the man. Stewart imports two fact-based characters to carry this theme through the novel: Edna, the innocent 18-year-old who leaves home to take a job in a munitions factory, and Minnie, the not-so-innocent 16-year-old caught in a sham marriage. Constance struggles to save them from imprisonment until the age of 21, and from the label of moral depravity that a conviction would stick them with.

At the same time, Constance must struggle with the flight of Fleurette into a theatrical touring company. The same age as Edna and Millie, making the same claim on her freedom, Fleurette presents a dilemma for Constance — can she be as committed to her sister’s freedom and rights as she is to those of her charges?  Fleurette’s fancy of a life onstage, seen here in the harsh light of theatrical touring, provides Stewart even more opportunity to infuse historical detail, including lyrics of long-lost tunes from the times.

Indeed, the fictions foisted upon the facts here are themselves quite harmonious reading. The Kopp Sisters’ saga rests light on the page and the reader, speeding right along. Author Stewart does not let history weigh either her narrative or her reader down.

 

 

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Dinosaurs, gunslingers, Indians and more

This novel arrived right about the time my husband and I were moving from the farm where we’d lived for more than 40 years to a new home 300 miles to the east, in Currituck County, N.C. The book made the move, but ended up under the stack of other books waiting to be read. I wish I’d had my hands on it during the worst of the upheaval, because it’s a delightful diversion.

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

DRAGON TEETH. By Michael Crichton. Harper. 289 pages. $28.99.

DragonTeethMichael Crichton died in 2008, but this entertaining story is a new one. Depending on how you want to spin it, the manuscript was either serendipitously “discovered” in his files or dredged up from where it should have stayed – with the books that he didn’t have published.

Dedicated Crichton fans have already been debating the book’s merits and how it stacks up against such Crichton blockbusters as Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain.

As for me, a fan but not a fanatic, I’m glad this book made it into print. It was a lot of fun to read, and it included some fascinating history, especially about dinosaur discoveries as well as passionate disagreements over Darwin’s theory and the divisions between science and religion that it helped spur.

The time is 1876, and the primary setting is the still-wild American West – the Dakota, Montana and Wyoming territories. Custer has just had his bloody last stand, and the Sioux are still angrily dealing with white interlopers. But the lure of gold and other sources of fortune and adventure draws more and more people to this largely lawless region.

Enter William Johnson, a privileged son of a Philadelphia family who is an undergraduate at Yale. To win a bet against a fellow student, he signs up to go West with a group spending the summer helping Othniel Charles Marsh, a noted paleontologist.

This is the time not only of the Indian Wars, but also of the Bone Wars, a ruthless – sometimes reckless – competition to find the best fossils in the paleontological treasure chest that was the American West. Marsh is a real historical figure, as is Edward Drinker Cope, his bitter rival.

Marsh’s obsessions lead to suspicions and paranoia, and, convinced that Johnson is a spy for Cope, he abandons the inexperienced young man in Cheyenne. His summer and his honor at stake, Johnson joins Cope’s rival expedition.

What ensues is a grand adventure in which the spoiled young man learns a lot, nearly loses his life more than once and does a lot of growing up. Along the way, he runs into outlaws, miners, Indians, whores, shysters and many other characters, including the famous Wyatt Earp.

Will he survive, and will he keep his vow to protect the dinosaur bones that wind up in his care?

Crichton cautions not to read this book as history, and he includes notes as to who is real and what happened to those figures. His story does describe much what really happened that summer in both wars – Indians and bones. Then, naturally, he weaves a dramatic and fast-paced story around those facts.

What fun!

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A mad and maddening world

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

THE GOLDEN HOUSE. By Salman Rushdie. Read by Vikas Adam. Random House Audio. 14 ½ hours. 12 CDs. 45.

The-Golden-House-by-Salman-Rushdie-Book-Review-Buy-Online-1Salman Rushdie’s new novel captures this moment in time in America in a brilliant and disturbing way.

Yes, The Golden House is frenetic, hyperbolic, often over the top and sometimes confusing as to what is supposed to be truth and what is supposed to be fiction. But isn’t that the case in our society today?

And how else could it be, given that Rushdie has taken it upon himself to write about Donald Trump – and not just once, but a double dose?

First, we have the Golden family – strong patriarch in his 70s, three grown sons who are all flawed and still under his thumb, and, before long, a beautiful young Russian immigrant wife. The Goldens have left their unidentified homeland in mysterious circumstances, taking on new identities as they settle into a mansion in New York City. Father and sons have given themselves suitably pretentious names: The father, who, by the way, plays the violin, dubs himself Nero Golden. His Golden sons are Petronius, Lucius Apuleius and Dionysus.

Each of the sons is flawed and troubled in his own way, and behind the father’s great wealth are dark secrets. Part of the story is learning some of those secrets, and another part is seeing how they haunt the family.

The Goldens arrive as Barack Obama is taking office, and the story plays out against the backdrop of the Obama era, with the financial collapse that ushered it in and the deepening divisions among Americans, especially about race and gender identity.

The narrator is Rene, an intelligent, sensitive young man whose family owns a house on a garden that’s open only to those whose houses border it including, now, the mysterious Goldens. Aspiring to be a filmmaker, Rene becomes fascinated with this family and determined to uncover their secrets. Gradually, he becomes more involved with them than he ever intended.

No one could miss the allusions to the Trump family, but Rushdie also gives us a Trump figure. The book progresses to the 2016 election, in which a crass, woefully unqualified green-haired character who calls himself the Joker and does, indeed, resemble a comic-book villain, improbably surges to victory.

While much of the book is exaggerated and at times wryly funny, when Rushdie has his scary cartoon Joker utter words that were actually spoken by Trump, it’s not amusing at all. It’s frightening.

Ably read by Vikas Adam, the audio presentation of the book skillfully captures the mood and the times.

As the novel careens along and Rene is both learning more about the Goldens and working on his screenplay, it is sometimes difficult to sort out what’s actually supposed to be happening and what is made up. If that’s not a metaphor for our society, I don’t know what is.

It’s no accident that Rene is a filmmaker. The story unfolds cinematically, in scenes and bursts of action, and there is little deep character development. Rushdie set out not to write a great and timeless novel, but rather to hold up a mirror to this moment in America. What he shows us is not pretty.

 

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A wreck, a murder, a mystery

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE. By Shari Lapena. Penguin Audio. Read by Tavia Gilbert. 9 hours; 7 CDs. $47.

strangerIf Shari Lapena’s first suspense novel, The Couple Next Door, was as good as most people seemed to think it was, then she’s suffering from sophomore slump with A Stranger in the House. I didn’t read the first one, so I can’t compare.

Lapena’s second suspense offering is a good example of an audio book that I listened to and enjoyed, but I probably would not have finished if I’d been reading the printed novel. The story was entertaining enough while I was driving and listening, but not sufficiently well written to make turning pages worth the effort.

One problem with A Stranger in the House is a characteristic that some readers don’t seem to mind. Although I like a well-told suspense story, the suspense itself is not enough to fully engage me. I want at least one character I like enough to care about. In this book, I don’t much like anybody.

As the story begins, Tom Krupp, a successful young professional in an upstate New York town, comes home to his nice house in the suburbs to discover that his wife, Karen, is gone. She left the house in such a hurry, apparently, that she didn’t even take her cell phone or her purse. None of this is like Karen, a usually careful person. While Tom is still phoning friends, trying to figure out where she’s gone and why, he gets word that she’s been hurt in a car accident in the bad part of town where she’d never go. By all accounts, she was driving erratically and much too fast before she crashed into a pole.

At the hospital, he learns that Karen has amnesia, apparently related to a concussion, and she has no idea why she left the house or what she was doing in that unsavory neighborhood

As things rapidly progress, it turns out a man also was shot to death in an abandoned restaurant in the same part of town, at about the time Karen was driving wildly. Police detectives, suspicious about the coincidence, begin delving into Karen’s mysterious past.

Meanwhile, Karen’s only friend, her neighbor Brigid, is extremely interested in all that’s happening.

None of these people are appealing or sympathetic. Karen and Tom both have their secrets. Rather than feeling sorry for Karen, the reader begins to mistrust her and see her as manipulative and sneaky. Tom has no backbone and seems mostly concerned about himself. Brigid, stuck in a dull marriage, is a caricature of the scheming woman as she knits by her window, watching her neighbors and lusting after Tom.

If the characters in a suspense novel aren’t appealing, then the suspense needs to be original, gripping and surprising. Unfortunately, A Stranger in the House is all too clichéd and predictable, starting with Karen’s convenient amnesia. Much of the plot is simply hard to believe, such as Tom having married Karen and been with her a couple of years without knowing anything about her background. Lapena offers what are supposed to be plot twists, but they are fairly easy to see coming.

As an audiobook, this one was entertaining enough to pass the time, even if I frequently wanted to shake – or worse – the main characters. But here’s hoping Lapena can give us a better plot and at least one likable character next time out.

 

 

 

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Same place, new face

Bob Moyer takes time out from his traveling, petanquing, haikuing, swing dancing and other passions to get caught up on a book review.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

THE LATE SHOW. By Michael Connelly. Little, Brown. 405 pages. $28.

lateshowMichael Connelly has been granted the mantle of successor to Raymond Chandler, and he has worn it with distinction. His Bosch is to the L.A. Police Department what Chandler‘s Marlowe was to L.A.

Marlowe walked down the mean streets of L.A., while Bosch had to maneuver through the mean halls of the L.A.P.D. Both loners, both as hard-boiled as they get.

But Bosch has moved into retirement phase, and obviously Connelly had the urge to move on with a new series. His solution turns out to be very successful. The halls and procedures of the L.A.P.D. are comfortable to both reader and author. Why not put a new face in a familiar place? Voila — Renee Ballard.

Although female, Officer Ballard has a lot in common with Bosch. Like him, she’s on the right side of everything except her superiors. She brought charges against her lead officer, lost the case, and as punishment was banned to THE LATE SHOW — the graveyard, the deadhead, the third shift. There, she and her partner get to handle every case that comes along — but then pass it on to the day shift.

That’s where the adventure comes in here. Ballard keeps unauthorized connections to two cases, both of which could and do endanger her life and career. One is the brutal beating of a transgender prostitute; the other is a “four bodies on the floor” case that leads to a cop killing. She tracks the first case until she is sure she has her man. When she does, she realizes “Nothing in her life beat it. It had been a long time coming to her on the late show but now she felt it and she knew deep down it was the reason she would never quit, no matter where they put her or what they said about her.”

The second case comes after she plies the same path that led to so many of Bosch’s successes — close reading of the case file. It’s there she comes “…across a sentence and a question that turned her thoughts on the case in a new direction.”  That direction leads her to the solution of the murder.

Ballard faces politics and possible death with strength and ingenuity, surviving both. She leads an alternative lifestyle, and comes to discover in her travails that she has something different inside her: “Something dark. Something scary.”  And something interesting for the reader. Long live Renee Ballard.

 

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One last taste…

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

THE PAINTED QUEEN. By Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess. William Morrow. 352 pages. $27.99.

paintedFans of Elizabeth Peters’ beloved Amelia Peabody series can enjoy this final installment if they read it as light entertainment, a glimpse of sorts of the beloved characters and perhaps a reminder of just how extraordinary Peters was. But if they focus on comparing it to what Peters might have written herself, they will likely be disappointed.

But then, Joan Hess took on what was probably an impossible task when she agreed to finish The Painted Queen, the Amelia Peabody novel Peters was working on when she died in 2013 at age 85. Peters had done considerable work on the book, but it was not anywhere near finished. Nor were the notes Peters left comprehensive or even easy to read. On the plus side, Hess, a mystery writer herself, was friends with Peters for decades, and the two had discussed the book as Peters worked on it.

As to the story: Although it was the last book Peters wrote about Amelia and her family of archaeologists in Egypt, its setting is actually between the 1999 book The Falcon at the Portal, set in 1911-12, and her 2000 book He Shall Thunder in the Sky, set in 1914-15. Nefret, the Emersons’ adopted daughter, is still recovering from her brief, disastrous marriage to the late Geoffrey Godwin, and she and Ramses, the Emersons’ son, who (as fans know, so this is not a spoiler) eventually marries her in a later book, are ill at ease with each other.

The action begins in fine form, with a man bursting into the bathroom of Amelia and Emerson’s elegant Cairo hotel suite while Amelia, weary from travel, is trying to relax in a bubble bath. The man, who turns out to have a knife protruding from his back, drops dead after gasping “Murder.” Oddly, the mysterious man is wearing a monocle, and he is carrying a card that says “Judas.” Adding to the drama, a note saying only “Where were you?” is pushed under the hotel suite door, apparently meant to chide Emerson for not having protected his wife himself.

Before long, more monocle-wearing and murderous men appear, posing threats to the Emerson family. Meanwhile, Amelia, Emerson and their entourage head for the excavation site at Armana, where they will be on hand for the discovery of the long-sought bust of Nefertiti. But odd things are happening at the site, as well as in Cairo.

Tension mounts, as the Emerson family deals with mysterious villains, faked antiquities and criminals including Sethos, the master of them all and an ardent admirer of Amelia. In the background seethes the political intrigue and jockeying for strategic positions that foretell the coming great war in Europe.

In other words, the book has all the makings of a fine Amelia Peabody novel, with lots of lore about Egyptian history and the competitive world of archaeological digs, and ample opportunities for Amelia and Ramses to rush off on dangerous adventures.

So what’s the problem? It’s not so much that while Hess is a mystery writer herself, she is not an Egyptologist or a scholar, as was Peters, whose real name was Barbara Mertz. Hess did have an archaeological consultant, and for the lay reader at least, those details are convincing enough.

The problem is subtler than that, and the best way to explain it may be to say that Elizabeth Peters was a genius, and genius cannot be fully imitated. Ardent fans of the series will – and already have – found some discrepancies in facts and time lines, which is understandable, given the number (20) of books, all brimming with details. Nor is this the first novel in the series to have been written out of chronological order, so it would be easy to make minor errors.

More troubling are the ways in which the characters are just a bit off. Hess does a pretty good job of mimicking Peters’ tone and dry humor, but there are times when Amelia, or Ramses or Nefret or even one of the servants just doesn’t act or talk quite like him or herself. Some indefinable something is missing.

Or maybe it’s not so indefinable – it’s simply that Elizabeth Peters is missing. I enjoyed the book sufficiently to be glad that Hess’ labor of love and friendship brought it to us, so that fans could have one last taste of the story. But reading it made me realize anew that in Elizabeth Peters, we had a treasure. Sadly, that treasure cannot be duplicated.

 

 

 

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Beware the beasts

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

DEADFALL. By Linda Fairstein. Penguin Audio. Read by Barbara Rosenblat. 11 ½ hours; 10 CDs. $40.

deadfallAlex Cooper is back – sort of – after her kidnapping ordeal, but she’s supposed to be on leave from work, and she’s struggling emotionally.

A quiet time of healing is not in the works, however. Leaving a fund-raising gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Coop hears a man call her name. Before she can respond, her boss, District Attorney Paul Battaglia, has been shot twice in the head by someone in a passing car, and he’s dying in her arms.

As if all that weren’t sufficiently traumatic, especially for someone already in a fragile state of mind, Coop quickly realizes that she’s high on the list of suspects in her boss’ death. And far from showing any professional courtesy, some of the investigators seem bent on treating her more harshly than they would anyone else.

Writing what she knows and doing it well, Linda Fairstein has had great success with her long-running series of crime/police detective novels starring Alexandra Cooper, head of the sex crimes unit for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

In real life, Fairstein held that position herself for many years, and she draws on her own experiences as well as her deep knowledge of Manhattan.

She’s developed a winning formula for these novels, although there’s always plenty of fresh material: new villains, interesting plots, developments in Coop’s personal life and new settings that lend themselves to description and historical exposition.

This time, the storyline gives Fairstein an opportunity to educate her readers about global wildlife preservation, the lucrative and illegal trade in ivory and other goods, people who pay big bucks to kill unusual and endangered animals, exclusive hunting preserves including the one where Justice Antonin Scalia died and the Bronx zoo, among other interesting information.

Anyone who knows Coop knows she’s not going to follow orders to stay out of the investigation into Battaglia’s murder, and her boyfriend, NYPD Detective Mike Chapman, is likely to be aiding and abetting her efforts.

There were times in Deadfall when I got a little impatient with Coop’s recalcitrance, as well as her self-pity, but as one does with an old friend, I forgave her and went on with the story. It was worth it in the long run.

Fairstein’s Alex Cooper novels work especially well as audio books. The long sections detailing, for example, the history of the Bronx Zoo are not what we expect as dialogue in most novels and might make some readers impatient. But when Barbara Rosenblat reads them, they make for fascinating listening and add to the enjoyment of the story.

 

 

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The sins of the past…

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

Y IS FOR YESTERDAY. By Sue Grafton. Random House Audio. Read by Judy Kaye. 17 hours; 14 CDs. $45. Also available in print from Putnam.

YYou know how in stadiums after the rows of seats have been through the alphabet, the designation starts over with double letters – AA, BB, and so on? Here’s hoping Sue Grafton will do that when her Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series mysteries reaches its end, which looms ever closer.

After all, with this newest book, Y Is for Yesterday, we’re only one away from the culmination of a series that’s been entertaining readers since 1982.

And, as if to make the prospect of the end of the series even more distressing, Grafton has outdone herself with this Y offering. It’s one of the best books in a series that includes lots of very good ones.

In Grafton’s fictional world, Kinsey is still doing her detecting work in the 1980s, although we have reached 1989, and the end of the decade, like the end of the alphabet, is nearing. The case she’s hired to investigate is firmly rooted 10 years earlier.

Back in 1979, a girl who was a student in the exclusive private school attended by Santa Teresa’s elite teenagers was murdered, and four of her male classmates were implicated. Fritz McCabe, the one who actually shot her, and who received the stiffest punishment, has just been released from California’s youth detention system.

One factor in the girl’s murder was believed to have been a cheating scandal at the school; she had been rumored to be the one who told on those involved. But another factor was a videotape the boys had made showing the brutal sexual assault of a freshman girl. Just as a gag, of course, or so they say.

Can it be a coincidence that just as Fritz – now a man in his late 20s – is released from prison, a copy of the videotape surfaces, along with a demand for money to keep it out of the hands of the police? His parents hire Kinsey to try to find the blackmailer and make sure their son doesn’t face more legal troubles.

The story grows increasingly complex as Grafton moves back and forth between what happened in 1979 and what transpires as Kinsey gradually learns more of the truth about both then and the present.

Youthful indiscretions, mistakes, poor judgment or pure evil – whatever happened a decade ago continues to affect the lives of all who were involved: the boys, their victims, the parents. One of the four boys disappeared back in ’79, as soon as their attempts to conceal their roles in the murder began to crumble. Could he have returned? Or could Fritz, still in many ways a spoiled child, be in on the blackmail scheme?

With so many of those involved telling lies or incomplete truths, Kinsey faces a daunting challenge.

And that’s not all she’s facing. Ned Lowe, the creepy villain from the previous book, X, is back, leaving diabolically clever clues to mess with Kinsey’s mind and trying to harm her and others in more serious ways.

Along with the two suspenseful story lines, we have Kinsey as we know and love her, with her eccentric network of friends and associates, some of whom have interesting developments in their lives.

Judy Kaye, who has read the audio versions of all Grafton’s Alphabet books, is so convincingly the voice of Kinsey that any other reader would be immediately disregarded. She does a superb job, as usual.

This is an outstanding book. Read Y Is for Yesterday, and then hope there will be lots of tomorrows in the world of Kinsey Millhone.

 

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History, mystery and French food

Where’s Bob, who might as well be Waldo? Japan? Michigan? Germany? In his heart and in his taste buds, at any rate, he’s lately been in the Perigord region of France, savoring the latest Bruno, chief of police, mystery. Here’s his review.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

THE TEMPLARS’ LAST SECRET. By Martin Walker. Knopf. 336 pages. $25.95.

NewtemplarscoverNear the town of St. Denis, a woman has fallen to her death below the medieval fortress of Commarque. When Bruno, Chief of Police, gets to the site, he interviews the Count of Commarque about the day’s events. In return, the Count briefs Bruno on the last 800 years, and how interest in the Knights Templars’ reputed treasure may have some relevance to her death. In conclusion, he says: “Sometimes I wonder if we don’t have too much history here in France.”

What a joke on the part of the author, who can’t get enough of French history.

His use of history is what makes this series so refreshing as well as remarkable. Martin Walker draws upon detail from the deep history of France’s Perigord region to accentuate his carefully drawn plots. In this latest episode, besides the Templars’ history, he identifies research about one of the “seven daughters of Eve” who lived in the region, and is a progenitor of 45 percent of Europe’s population. Bruno drives along the Grand Roc, “…a sheer cliff 50 meters high and a kilometer long with an overhang where people have lived 15,000 years.”  The Cave of Lascaux, with its remarkable prehistoric paintings, is not only central to this story; it is only one of 25 painted caves in the area. Walker fills his narrative chockablock with engaging information.

None of the detail, however, detracts from the plot development. On the contrary, each fresh ingredient enhances the recipe that Walker has perfected over the many volumes of this series. Into the peaceful village of St. Denis, he draws history into confrontation with contemporary events, producing here what Bruno calls a “…strange mixture of Templars, Crusaders, Jerusalem in history – and Arab-Israeli politics.”  It is up to Bruno once again to solve the mystery.

And Bruno, once again, is up to the challenge. Not only does he kiss babies, save lives, coach rugby, change lives and cook, but he also displays one of the finest investigative minds in mystery fiction. The author gives one of the best descriptions ever of the process that makes Bruno one of the leading detectives in today’s literature:

A very faint idea began to form and almost as quickly it went, too elusive to stay. He recognized these subterranean mental stirrings. Sometimes Bruno thought of them as hunches, and sometimes as an idea coming from a part of his brain that was not entirely his — a part formed of curiosity, experience and intuition — that kept churning, calculating and making hypotheses that would suddenly erupt as a breakthrough. He knew the components of this latest puzzle — an ancient château and an Arabic name, Crusaders and Templars, a modern woman falling or perhaps being pushed to her death – and at some point and in some mysterious way they would fall into a pattern that made sense to him.

Well-articulated plot, charming characters, and engaging history aside, however, these books are just a front for the author’s real skill – food porn. Walker saves his most passionate prose for the many meals Bruno either prepares or participates in. The two noteworthy (and replicable) items here are a one-paragraph recipe for fresh salmon, and a multi-page meal preparation consisting of “…fish soup, followed by blanquette de veau with rice, salad with cheese and pears poached in spiced wine for dessert.”

Whether you are in the mood for a good mystery, or a good meal, Bruno’s latest adventure will probably be to your taste.

 

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