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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Devil's Cave

Martin Walker’s Bruno Courrèges is a most delightful and agreeable character. He is the Chief of Police in a little community called St Denis in France. Bruno is a hunter, a cook, a horseman, a lover, a non-politician with great political skills, and a good cop. I’m always amused by the description of the elaborate meals he cooks for himself, his lover, his friends. His knowledge of wine is also superb. He is human, unlike so many of the other cops and detectives I’m reading about. In the fifth in a series, The Devil’s Cave, we are introduced to a drifting punt on the local river containing the dead body of a dead woman surrounded by all the accoutrements of a Black Mass. During his horseback rides on Hector, his horse, he meets a lovely intriguing woman. On a canoe trip to determine the source of the woman’s place of embarkation, he meets another lovely woman. His main squeeze, Pamela, is off in Scotland taking care of her comatose mother. Isabelle re-enters into his life for a cameo with a special surprise. So much is going on in such a short time and it is all so human as well as related to the business of death and other happenings of a small community for the local police.
The complexity of the stories, the interweaving of so many pieces makes these books intellectual gymnastics and so addicting. Walker has built an incredible series and with each installment we get more complexity, glimpses to the past books and current events built on information we already know. He has drawn us into the St Denis community.
The Author’s note at the end of the novel is excellent, especially the first paragraph which is great satire.
One of the treats of this series is the meal. Apparently his wife has a food blog and his daughter maintains a webpage for Bruno that has recipes. Here is an example of the type of meal Bruno enjoys throughout the entire series:
He left J-J and Isabelle sitting at the table on the terrace in the sunshine, watching Balzac explore his new home. Bruno took from his kitchen a small knife and bowl and went looking for lunch. He could never understand Pamela’s obsession with eradicating dandelions from her lawns; he presumed it was some odd British idiosyncrasy like its royal family and its warm beer. Everyone in France understood the pleasure of young dandelion leaves in a salad, but Bruno went further. He looked for the tiny green buds of the future flowers, snipped them off until he had a couple of dozen and then added some leaves of fresh parsley. He went back into the kitchen to peel a few cloves and wash the white asparagus. (This was obtained earlier, picked in the wild.) Humming to himself with pleasure at entertaining his friends, he cut some slices from the big smoked ham that hung fro the main roof beam. He put water on to boil for the asparagus and he tiny new potatoes, cracked a dozen of his own eggs into a bowl and took plates, glasses and cutlery out to the table where Isabelle and J-J were chatting about politics.
He tossed a know of butter into a large frying pan and turned on the gas, opened a bottle of Bergerac Sec and took it with baguette of fresh bread and a bottle of Badoit, his favourite mineral water, out to the table. Back in the kitchen, the butter was starting to bubble and he added some crushed garlic and the dandelion buds, and began stirring the eggs with a large fork. He seasoned the eggs with salt and pepper and turned back to the buds. When he felt the little buds begin to soften under his spatula, he added the eggs and began to swirl them around the pan. He broke off briefly to stand the asparagus in their special tall cylindrical pan that he’d found in a broucante; now they were ready for the boiling water.
‘Can I help?’ Isabelle asked, coming into the kitchen, Balzac at her heels, raising his nose to sniff the tantalizing new scents of a kitchen. “It’s so good to be back here, watching you cook. It’s even better with the sunshine and a dog at our feet. It feels like summer.’
Bruno threw her a smiling glance before starting to fold the omelette. Last summer had been that first, glorious rapture of their love affair before she had decided to pursue her career in Paris. He could never decide whether he wanted a clean and surgical end of it, or to go on with their thrilling but frustrating reunions on snatched weekends. Just to look at her was to know he could not give her up, although in the back of his mind he knew that her inevitable departure would leave him miserable and guilty at the sense of betraying the distant Pamela.
“You can take this out to the table, ’ he said, sliding the folded omelette into a large oval dish, and then tearing up the parsley leaves to sprinkle on top. Before she picked up the plates, Isabelle took his arm and turned him to her to kiss him gently on the lips. He felt her tongue tease him briefly before she broke off and picked up the dish.
I smell truffles, but I don’t see any,’ J-J, fork in one hand and bread in the other. His wine glass was already empty. Bruno refilled it.
‘I left a small one in the egg box,’ Bruno replied. ‘Egg shells are porous so they absorb some of the flavour, not enough to overwhelm the pissenlit.’
When they finished the course, Bruno went back to the kitchen and sliced butter into the frying pan to melt before he drained the potatoes and asparagus. He put them into new dishes, poured on the melted butter, sprinkled more parsley on the potatoes and rejoined the others. (pp 166-68)
Bon appétit!! I am always hungry when I read a Bruno crime story but sated.

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