The Body in the Castle Well * Martin Walker

Rating: 2 out of 5.

A missing art student. An international investigation. A secret that will shatter the village of St Denis. Bruno, chief of police, faces a dark reckoning with France’s past in this page-turning mystery.

A rich American art student is found dead at the bottom of a well in an ancient hilltop castle. The young woman, Claudia, had been working in the archives of an eminent French art historian, a crippled Resistance war hero, at his art-filled chateau.

As Claudia’s White House connections get the US Embassy and the FBI involved, Bruno traces the people and events that led to her death – or was it murder?

Bruno learns that Claudia had been trying to buy the chateau and art collection of her tutor, even while her researches led her to suspect that some of his attributions may have been forged. This takes Bruno down a trail that leads him from the ruins of Berlin in 1945, to France’s colonial war in Algeria.

The long arm of French history has reached out to find a new victim, but can Bruno identify the killer – and prove his case?

I read this book on a layover – and I can’t say I really liked it. It’s peppered with French words so you may never forget this takes place in the land of wine and cheese and the investigator is awfully boring. There is a lot of dialogue with people which brings nothing to the story and could have been edited out. It’s not used to set the scene and we really don’t need to know that Amelie thinks she has fat thighs.

Back at his house Bruno fed his ducks and chickens, refilled their water bowls and collected their eggs. He checked the lamb he had cooked the previous day and spooned off the surface fat that had set overnight. He showered, shaved and dressed in his old uniform, and with Balzac on the passenger seat drove to Pamela’s riding school to saddle Hector and join his friends for the morning exercise of the horses. Shortly before eight, he had made his first patrol of the town, more like a pleasant stroll through the town, shaking hands with the men and kissing the women on each cheek.

Then he went to enjoy his coffee and croissant at Fauquet’s counter while checking Sud Ouest to see what new embarrassment Philippe Delaron had concocted for him. It was on an inside page under the headline “Limeuil Death—U.S. Steps In.” This was based on a bland statement from the American embassy’s press spokesman saying that they counted on the French authorities to complete their investigation “with all due dispatch.” No problems there, Bruno said to himself.

Please kill me if I ever pick up anything from Martin Walker. Actually no, I’ll die of boredom myself.

The crime / mystery is pretty common and you’ll know who it was a bit away from the end of the book.  A young woman has not appeared when she should so this fastidious and relentlessly good officer uses his own hound, Balzac, to trace her and is taken to the well in the gardens of a hill top village. It is here that a female is found in the well and the story begins. The French countryside is as flat as a dime store post card. The cuisine is listed like the day’s menu.

 Ivan brought him a kir and pointed to the blackboard on which he’d printed in chalk the menu of the day: split pea and ham soup to be followed by a terrine of hare, with rognons de veau au vin blanc as the main course. The desserts on offer were a choice of crème caramel, a selection of sorbets, chocolate mousse or rhubarb and apple pie. Ivan had a special way with fruit pies.

This goes to the charity bin

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