Children of War by Martin Walker is his most accomplished and daring novel in the Bruno, Chef de Police series. He explores three wars: WWII, The Algerian War of Independence, and the current jihads. On one front Bruno is exploring the history of Jewish children hidden in St Denis from the Vichy during WWII. On another front, Sami, a refuge of the Algerian War has been adopted by St Denis residents and has become a French citizen. Sami, who is Muslim and autistic, has gone to a Mosque in another town and disappeared four years ago only to turn up in Afghanistan from which he has been returned to St Denis a physical mess. Things get complicated when Sami is suspected of being the Engineer, the person responsible for making very sophisticated and lethal bombs that have killed and maimed French and allied troops. A third group of children are the students at the St Denis school. In their computer class they are doing the research about the Jewish children of WWII and where Sami went to school before he disappeared.
Amidst all this angst, Bruno is able to share his time with Pamela, his lover. In a very beautiful three pages, Walker has Bruno making a lovely afternoon meal, wooing Pamela, sharing a swim in the pool, and making love while the bread is rising and baking.
Bruno is a many talented man as he negotiates among a former, current, and perhaps future lover with enviable ease; contends with lawyers and the law; and battles jihadists who invade his town, all the while protecting the children of this hamlet. “’I think we’d better warn the lawyer,’ the Mayor replied. ‘St Denis is a community that believes in the virtues of our République, a town that gave refuge to Jewish children and also tries to deal honourably with its Muslims, whatever the consequences. There’s nothing else we can say.’”
The politics of war, the actual battles, and the outcomes litter the landscape of this very historically current novel as it also probes the past to provide clarity to the present and hope for a better future. My favorite part of the book was when the students presented their plans of honoring the WWII children.