Past and present collide in Bruno’s Perigord

Bob Moyer and I share a love for Martin Walker’s Bruno novels. Once again, he got hold of the new one before I did. I must catch up.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer.

A CHATEAU UNDER SIEGE: A Bruno, Chief of Police Novel. By Martin Walker. Knopf.  308 pages.  $28.

Every Bruno, Chief of Police novel has a moment of French history that illuminates something happening today. In Martin Walker’s Perigord where Bruno’s village of St. Denis is located, the past is never past; it’s always present. In this, book 16 of the series, the nearby town of Sarlat celebrates a battle of the Hundred Years War. The particular battle marks a shift in military history, the moment when the superiority of the British bowmen was overwhelmed by armament. From then on, it was about artillery. While the battle ensues, the man playing the French leader suffers an unscripted wound, which may be mortal. Bruno knows him to be in the leadership of an international French security system headquartered nearby, and he calls the head of national security. The man is spirited away, and the general orders Bruno to secure both the man’s home, and the chateau of the title, which he has rented for a gathering of his colleagues. It turns out the man is also an international tech mogul, and the gathering consists of movers and shakers of his inner circle, as well as his family. The assistant director of the man’s agency shows up, and so does a full squad of infantry to guard the house and guests. Within a few pages, Walker has done what he does so well — make the Perigord the center of international attention.

Then the plot thickens. Or, rather, goes global. The leader doesn’t end up in a hospital, an intruder is spotted at the chateau, a Russian spy contacts Bruno, Syrian voices are intercepted on a covert network and the term “2d graphene” pops up when Bruno goes prying. Voila! The source of all the intrigue — the next generation of computing. As Walker puts it, “It was something about the shifting balance between power and technology that was as old as history, as old as the way the beatable English longbow had been defeated by French cannon, and as new as the humiliation of France in 1940 by the German panzer divisions.” In other words — the past is not past. Walker served as senior director of the Global Business Policy Council, and he makes quite clear how France needs to be at the forefront, why the leader had to disappear, and why so many people want to stop the process.

All this detail exacts a price in the real reason many people read these books—food porn. Busy protecting the guests, prying into the internet, commanding a squad of soldiers, eating with spies, riding his horse, Bruno doesn’t get to cook a meal until three-quarters of the way into the book—but it’s a multi-page orgy that will satisfy his fans, and make new readers go back to previous books. When they do, they will also discover the mystery that runs throughout this series, and is not resolved here — will Bruno ever get a mate?

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