An apparently natural death at a distinguished World War II veteran’s 90th birthday celebration turns out to have roots as deep and distant as the war itself.
Benoît “Bruno” Courrèges, chief guardian of the law in the sleepy but homicide-prone town of St. Denis, leaves the festivities honoring Col. Jean-Marc Desaix early. After all, he’s been invited mainly to push the wheelchair for the Red Countess, a far more distinguished guest whose life Bruno saved. So it’s not until the mayor telephones the next morning that Bruno learns the affair was spoiled by sudden death. Col. Gilbert Clamartin, who’d been a cadet long ago with Victor, the patriarch’s son and heir, had long been a hopeless alcoholic, and the kerfuffle when he laid his arm on Chantal, Victor’s daughter, makes everyone indecently eager to put his death down to overindulgence. Even after Gilbert’s been cremated, however, Bruno wonders how he could have gotten so very drunk so very quickly and vows to find out—that is, if he can tear himself away from the far more pressing question of how to mediate the growing strife between local hunters and anti-hunting activist Imogène Ducaillou, one of whose deer has collided fatally with a car driven by Monique Peyrefitte, the wife of a conservative candidate for the national assembly. And all this detective work, including some serious research into the source of Gilbert’s suspiciously large annuity, will have to take its place behind Bruno’s trademark eating, drinking, and womanizing, this time with Madeleine Desaix, Victor’s beautiful, politically ambitious wife.
The mystery, though eminently predictable, is as conscientious as ever. As usual (The Children Return, 2015, etc.), however, it’s the details of the good life in the Dordogne that linger longest in the memory.