The Coldest Case is the most recent, Bruno, Chief of Police novel, from Martin Walker. I’ve been anxiously awaiting its arrival since I first heard it was coming out. On the holiday Monday I was up at the McNally Robinson store at The Forks. I asked when the book was coming in and was told it would arrive at the Grant Park location the next day.
I immediately reserved a copy. They said there were only four copies coming in, and I was a little surprised. This is a really great series that deserves a readership on the same level as Ian Rankin, Louise Penny, et. al.
For Those Unfamiliar With Bruno
Bruno, the protagonist of The Coldest Case, is a small town chief of police in the Dordogne region of France. He is an orphan, ex-special forces, and a gourmet cook. His love-life is the very definition of the old “it’s complicated,” Facebook status. His most faithful companion is a Basset Hound named Balzac.
The Coldest Case
The latest story begins with Bruno studying a collection of Neanderthal skulls. One of the best features of the Bruno novels is the way they take you on a tour of the Dordogne. The region is full of important pre-historic and medieval sites. At a time when travel is difficult, the Bruno novels are an enjoyable way to be a tourist from a home.
While studying the skulls, and the way they have been reconstructed to a full human face, Bruno is reminded of skull, whose picture sits in the office of J.J. Jalipeau, his friend in the Gendarmes. It is that skull that represents “The Coldest Case.” A case from early in J.J.’s career that has haunted him up until the present.
Too re-open the case would be too expensive for usual police resources. However, through Bruno’s friends and a student willing to do the reconstruction as part of an academic project, they manage to rebuild not only the face, but something of the life of the victim.
The trail eventually leads to a local winemaker, with ties to East Germany. This brings all sorts of levels of people in to play, including Isabelle, Bruno’s grand passion. The case then becomes a race against time. Not only because of political interference, but also because the local area is under great threat of forest fire.
Can Bruno keep all these balls in the air? Will justice be served? Well, that’s why you should buy the book.
What Keeps Me Coming Back to Bruno
One thing I noticed, in The Shooting at Chateau Rock, and even more in The Coldest Case, is the expanded role for Balzac, the Basset Hound. He’s clearly a reader favourite and also a favourite of the other characters in the stories.
Another thing that caught my eye, was that the only murder occurred off stage. As the series progresses it’s moving away from big, shoot’em up confrontations towards more, simple arrests. I like that change in direction.
I also enjoy the way in which Walker continually introduces new characters, The Coldest Case introduces at least four new characters, one of whom, Alain, gives us a greater insight into Bruno’s childhood. Yet, despite this, none of the appearances by older characters feels superfluous, or padding.
Which brings me to another thing I really appreciate about the Bruno novels. Despite being the 15th in the series, The Coldest Case, still clocks in at just over 300 pages. Also, despite all the characters, there aren’t a dozen storylines that need to be tied up, (that’s why I quit reading Elizabeth George’s Lynley series).
Martin Walker, the author, has spent much of his life as a journalist covering international politics. While at times that can make elements of the plots, stretch one’s credulity, it does bring an interesting perspective. I enjoy reading about international politics. Seeing activities from something other than an American perspective.
Walker never shies away from referencing some of France’s less reputable behaviours. In The Coldest Case, the Stasi, the secret police of Germany are brought into the light a little. You may not agree with all his takes, but if you like novels with a good, historical angle to them. the Bruno novels are really good at that.
Bruno at the Table
One thing about the Bruno novels. No case will ever get in the way of a good meal. There is one, little exception in The Coldest Case, but on the whole even meals grabbed on the run. are good, if simple. The camaraderie that marks the dinner table scenes is one of the real highlights of the series.
If you can get ahold of the ingredients the meals are actually laid out in such a fashion that you can prepare them from the accounts in the story. Of course, if you are one of those, lazy and feckless, “just give me the damn recipe,” sorts, Bruno will be bound to offend you. After all, for Bruno, the meals and the stories are all bound up together. Each being greatly lessened by the absence of the other.
Whatever your thoughts on this, you should still rush out and grab a copy of The Coldest Case. Now, the hard part, waiting until next year for another Bruno novel. Oh, and waiting for the MBLL to get their act together and start bringing in some wines from the Dordogne.