The Body in the Castle Well by Martin Walker

The Body in the Castle Well
The Body in the Castle Well

If you haven’t already met the epicurean French detective, Lieutenant Bruno Courrèges, then The Body in the Castle Well could be your perfect starter.

If you haven’t already met the epicurean French detective, Lieutenant Bruno Courrèges, then The Body in the Castle Well could be your perfect starter.

Lovers of clever crime mysteries, fascinating history, stunning scenery, excellent cuisine, and the very best of French wines have been enjoying sharing time with the chief of police in prize-winning historian and journalist Martin Walker’s exceptionally entertaining Dordogne novels for the past eleven years.

Walker, who spends most of his time in the Périgord region – the gastronomic heartland of France – has mastered the fine art of harnessing intriguing murder mysteries with paeans to his adopted country’s rich history, landscape and culture, serving up stories with an addictive brand of Gallic charm.

At the heart of these superb novels is the laidback Bruno, a bon viveur with a brain as discerning as his palate… a man who can crack crime in the fictional town of St Denis whilst cracking open a bottle of the most expensive Château Margaux.

In his twelfth mystery, rich American art student, Claudia Muller, is found dead at the bottom of an ancient well in the beautiful village of Limeuil. The 25-year-old daughter of a millionaire financier had been working in the archives of eminent French art historian, Pierre de Bourdeille, a disabled Resistance war hero, at his art-filled hilltop castle, and she had become suspicious about aspects of his work.

Her death is at first assumed to be an accident, related to opioid drugs found in her body, but Bruno becomes convinced that this case is not so simple. His investigations take him into the past of de Bourdeille, the nonagenarian art expert who became wealthy through the sale of paintings whose provenance could have been forged.

In his younger days, de Bourdeille had aided the Resistance and been arrested by a Vichy policeman whose own life story also becomes inexorably entangled with the case. Also in the mix is a young falconer who works at the Château des Milandes, the former home of fabled jazz singer Josephine Baker.

As Claudia father’s White House connections order the US Embassy and the FBI to get involved, Bruno traces the people and events that led to the woman’s death… and once more, it seems the long arm of French history has reached out to find a new victim.

Walker is on his best form as Bruno tackles an intriguing case which takes him from a small château in the breathtaking countryside of Limeuil – known as one of the loveliest villages in France – and the ruins of Berlin in 1945 to France’s colonial war in Algeria, forays into art provenance and falconry, and the secrets of a delicious navarin of lamb.

And it is this eclectic mix that has turned Walker’s amiable detective into the culinary crime king of rural France as his atmospheric and wonderfully complex whodunits magically morph into wish-you-were-here feasts full of food, humour and sensory delights.

New readers cannot help but be enchanted by the very human – and intensely humane – Bruno and his world, and seasoned fans can enjoy meeting up with old friends and familiar faces from past encounters in St Denis.

Fun, satisfying, and quirkily and quintessentially French…

(Quercus, hardback, £20)