More trouble in paradise comes to Bruno Courrèges in the form of a dead woman who may or may not be involved with a Black Mass—and not just any Black Mass.
Despite four earlier brushes with homicide (The Crowded Grave, 2012, etc.), residents of the Périgord village of St. Denis are still prepared to show a healthy interest in a corpse, especially when it’s that of an attractive nude floating down the River Vézère in an otherwise deserted punt. Bruno, the chief of police, struggles to pull the little boat ashore. So does handsome visitor Lionel Foucher, though his efforts are rather at cross-purposes with Bruno’s. The body, when Dr. Gelletreau finally gets a chance to examine it, can’t be identified, but it tells quite a story: its torso marked with a pentagram and its organs showing evidence of high recent alcohol consumption and rough recent sex. The contents of the punt—a sizeable black candle, a decapitated cockerel—tell their own story of a Black Mass. These hints, so scandalous to Father Sentout, are confirmed by further evidence of satanic rites in the Gouffre de Colombac, a cave that’s hitherto been a rather innocuous local tourist attraction. It’s up to Bruno to trace the links among a man accused of beating his wife and daughter, a suspicious deal to develop a vacation village, and a possible descendant of the notorious royal mistress Madame de Montespan, on whose behalf the first Black Mass was offered 300 years ago.
The case is just as complicated as it sounds, although the mystery is more conscientious than surprising. As usual in this series, the high points are Bruno’s decorously offstage bouts of sex and his far more titillating meals.