MEIKE’S REVIEW OF A TASTE FOR VENGEANCE BY MARTIN WALKER

A Taste for Vengeance: A Bruno, Chief of Police Novel Cover ImageIt’s impossible to talk about Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police mystery series without talking about food and wine. (And it’s equally impossible to read the books without getting hungry!) Set in the Perigord region of France, the novels describe the local culinary traditions in great detail and Bruno’s love of good food and fine wine are integral themes of the book.  From his morning croissant to an evening meal featuring copious amounts of duck fat and a few glasses of the local wine, Bruno is a true connoisseur of all that the local farmers have to offer. He’s also deeply invested in the friendships he’s formed, volunteering with local youth and organizing dinners with friends who might not otherwise get to see each other. The Perigord is a region steeped in history (it’s been continually occupied for some 70,000 years) and Walker brings the abundant cultural and comestible traditions to vibrant life.

But don’t be deceived by the seemingly bucolic setting—Walker’s novels aren’t cozies by any means, they’re intricately plotted works teeming with political and international intrigue.

In A Taste for Vengeance, Bruno is adjusting to his new role—instead of being responsible only for the town of St. Denis, his territory will now cover the entire valley and a couple of other jurisdictions. He must navigate a new chain of command while not alienating former peers who now report to him—a delicate balancing act for the modest Bruno.

A friend asks Bruno if he can find out why one of her cooking school students, German tourist Monika Felder, didn’t show up as planned; his investigation reveals that the woman had been travelling with someone other than her husband, a mysterious Irishman presumed to be her lover. When the two turn up dead, the investigation deepens and Bruno learns that the Irishman was operating under an assumed identity and had not only a background in intelligence but also a military connection to Monika’s husband.

Meanwhile, Bruno learns that the star member of the youth rugby team he mentors is pregnant—a development he perceives as potentially catastrophic on the eve of her possible nomination to the national squad.

As always, Walker weaves these disparate plot elements together seamlessly and the reader is treated to a riveting and complex tale of crime while gaining insight into Bruno’s rich and varied personal life.

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CRIME FICTION FRIDAY- AGAINST HIS WILL BY HOWARD GIMPLE

Our final story out of Akashic’s Monday’s Are Murder to celebrate International Crime Fiction Month is Howard Gimple’s take on a piece of London’s shadow history in “Against His Will.” Get ready for intrigue, fights, and someone famous losing an eye.

 

Meike talks to Martin Walker about Bruno, Chief of Police

Martin Walker’s character Bruno, Chief of Police, is a perennially popular figure in crime fiction. We look forward to each new book, and since Taste for Vengeance is just out, we got to talk with Martin about his inspiration, his writing, and Bruno. If you missed our event with Walker, you can buy signed copies of Taste for Vengeance in our store or on our website.

MysteryPeople Meike: You have an extensive background in journalism.  How and why did you make the transition to fiction?

Martin Walker: I was so entranced by the prehistoric cave art that I felt compelled to write about the kind of ancient society that could have produced such masterpieces and wrote ‘The Caves of Perigord.’ (2002) But that wasn’t enough. I wanted to write about the place now, its lifestyle and the its food and wine and the way the history weaves its way into everything so I began to write the Bruno tales.

MPM: You’re originall

y from the UK but now you split your time between Washington DC and the Perigord region of France, which is where the Bruno series is set.  What was it about that region that drew you in originally and what do you love most about it?

MW: At first it was the landscape and the food and wine and the sweetness of life there, but soon I became fascinated with the history and prehistory of the Perigord, the extraordinary work of the cave painters at Lascaux 18,000 years ago. Visiting the 25 painted caves and the hundred-plus caves with engravings, one can never again think of these people as primitive. Their artistic sensibility is instantly and movingly familiar to us.

MPM: What is the biggest misconception that Americans have about France and its people?

MW: That they behaved pitifully in World War Two. I have learned enough about the Resistance to know better. And never forget that under Napoleon, they took Moscow – something Hitler’s Wehrmacht never achieved.

MPM: Food is an important theme in the Bruno stories, and in addition to being a celebrated writer you have received recognition for your knowledge of foie gras and wine.  Can you tell us a little about those honors?

Photo of Martin WalkerMW: I was elected a chevalier of foie gras by the regional confrerie, which brings together producers, vendors and gastronomes and we run the annual competition to find the best. And I was elected a Grand Consul de la Vinee de Bergerac (founded 1254) by the other Consuls, people in the wine trade, so I began making my own wine, Cuvee Bruno, with friends in the region. I chair the jury of the Prix Rageneau, the regional cookery prize, and Bruno’s Kochbuch,’ which I wrote with my wife for the German market, was awarded by Gourmand International the prize of ‘world’s best French cookbook’ of the year in 2016.

MPM: Food and wine are an integral part of your novels, and indeed an integral part of French culture. What led you to explore the cuisine so fully in your novels? What can we Americans learn from the French in our approach to food?

MW: We all have to eat so we might as well take time to enjoy it and make a ceremony of necessity. It is also a sacrament of community; there are few greater pleasures than dining with old friends and pleasing them with your cooking, even more when the fruit and vegetables come from your own garden. The key is to take your time: think about food, find the best sand freshest ingredients, plan your meal and the wines. And remember the old saying that a Frenchwoman takes greater care in choosing her cheesemonger than in choosing her lovers.

MPM: Can you describe your “dream” dinner?  Who would you invite, and what would you prepare?

MW: If it’s summer and we’re eating in the open air, I’d make my own version of gazpacho from the garden, then fresh trout from the river, grilled with lemon slices, then aiguillettes of duck cooked in honey and mustard seeds and served with pommes de terre Sarladaise, with garlic and parsley and a truffle grated over the potatoes at the table, just before serving. Then cheese and salad and finish with a tarte au citron to echo the lemons with the fish. For the first two courses I’d serve a Cuvee Quercus dry white Bergerac from Pierre Desmartis and then for the duck a Tour des Verdots red from David Fourtout.

MPM: Bruno has a penchant for falling for strong, independent women thus he’s still the most eligible bachelor in the area–will we see him settle down any time soon?

MW: Who knows? He hasn’t told me yet. I keep trying to set him up with interesting new women but Isabelle keeps hauling him back. I learned when I tried to have him seduced by a wicked femme fatale (and he refused) that he has a mind of his own and sometime won’t follow the plan. It’s interesting; he’s more real to me than some of my friends.

MPM: Bruno is a marvelously nuanced character–a decorated war hero yet a gentle soul who doesn’t like to carry a gun, volunteers with local youth, and devotes tremendous time and effort to organizing elaborate meals with his friends. What was the inspiration for Bruno and what is it about him that keeps drawing you back to his story?

MW: The inspiration was my village policeman in France, who may be old and fatter than Bruno and has a wife and family, but the skills and character traits are there. He’s also my tennis partner.

MPM: Can you tell us a little about your writing process?

MW: Once I have the book planned, chapter by chapter and the research and character notes complete, I start to write and set myself a firm target of producing a minimum of 1,000 words a day, wherever I am and whatever else I’m doing. For an old journalist, that isn’t difficult.

MPM: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

MW: Write every day, read what you write aloud to yourself and never stop for the day at the end of a chapter, nor even at the end of a paragraph. It makes it much easier to start again tomorrow.

 

Make IQ Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show Summer Read!

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Jimmy Fallon has announced the first ever Tonight Show Summer Reads list! 

On his top 5 is one of our favorite books of last year, IQ. And now you can vote to make it Fallon’s top pick & summer read for the show! Vote now for this fantastic read.

Back when the book came out our own Molly Odintz said, “Joe Ide has turned his childhood growing up in South Central LA and his love for Sherlock Holmes into a unique take on the Holmes/Watson origin story. IQ follows Isaiah Quintabe (IQ) during his teenage years, after the death of his brother forces Isaiah to turn his superintelligence to moneymaking schemes with his street-smart roommate Dodson, and in his adulthood, as he teams up with an old frenemy to find out who’s trying to derail a rapper from finishing his next album. As Ide switches between then and now, we follow Isaiah’s path from teenage mastermind to confident private investigator. IQ especially shines in its moments between characters – IQ’s strained relationship with Dodson allows both the characters plenty of room for growth. Calvin “Black the Knife” Wright, a rapper slowly undergoing a complete mental breakdown, provides some excellent comic relief for what would otherwise be a dour tale. If IQ gets a movie deal, Cal will definitely steal the show.”

Read more about it on our site and vote now!

 

“WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT…” By Tim Bryant

Thanks to Tim Bryant for writing a guest blog post for us about his books and where Wilkie is headed. Tim will be here Saturday, June 16th at 2pm with Mike Nemeth to discuss their work. 

Wilkie John Liquorish has turned out to be every bit the handful I wrote him to be and then some.

Kensington Books put out the first book in the Wilkie John Western series, A World Of Hurt, in November of last year. The second, Dead And Buried, just followed at the end of May. I had just written the fourth book (Old Mother Curridge) of my Dutch Curridge Mystery series in which a flawed anti-hero private detective fought both society’s and his own worst ills in an attempt to level the uneven playing field of 1950s Fort Worth. With Wilkie John, I decided, I would push my protagonist as far as I could. Unfortunately, this also pushes the reader along with him.

Wilkie John is a seventeen-year-old boy, thrown into a violent and unforgiving world of 1880s Texas with no father, and worse, no moral compass at all. He’s trigger happy, and that’s just about the only kind of happiness he really knows. He shoots two people in the first chapter. The body count grows. At one point, he gets a job as a gravedigger, a job that seems to suit his abilities, as he can always kill someone if he needs the work.

There is a black humor to Wilkie John and to the book in general. He doesn’t wear a white hat. If that’s a problem for him, it seems to also be a problem for his readers. Reviews for the first book have proven divisive. One reviewer thought the tale completely unredeemable, even though he threw the book against a wall and failed to finish it. And, may I add, he did get all of his facts completely correct. I couldn’t disagree with much of what he said, although he did leave a great deal unsaid.

Is Wilkie John redeemable? Well, the reader will have to keep reading, but the protagonist does back his way into a job with the Texas Rangers. I finally came to the conclusion that readers who have trouble with the Wilkie John books dislike them mostly for their authenticity. Wilkie John is wild and a little wooly, but in a way very much like Billy the Kid. I started him off at the age of seventeen, both as a nod to Billy and as a way of giving myself lots of room to develop him. With that much room, I decided, I could also give him a lot of need for developing as well.

If the second book does as well as the first, we’re certainly hoping for a third in the series. I’ve learned to like Wilkie John just fine, so I do believe you can too. He’s got some growing up to do, but didn’t we all at seventeen?   

The other thing of note about the Wilkie John westerns is that they’re based around the section of Fort Worth known as Hell’s Half Acre. The 1880s were the era when that outlaw section of town was gaining its fierce reputation. Other wild men like Butch Cassidy and Wyatt Earp (some people now misbelieve that he was a white hat wearing true blue good guy, but he was nothing of the sort) were gambling and carousing in the saloons and brothels there. It’s a fascinating time and place to throw a young morally-compromised boy like Wilkie John into.

In an example of getting the cart before the horse and pulling backward into the past, my Dutch Curridge detective books were also set in Hell’s Half Acre, years before I even thought of writing the westerns. They, however, were set during the sundown of that fabled place, as it was making way for the spiffed-up Fort Worth that we know today. In fact, Gary Goldstein at Kensington read those Dutch Curridge books and then gave me the opportunity to write for Kensington. He never stipulated that they be set in Fort Worth or in any specific location though. Of course, I had done a great deal of research on Fort Worth by that time, and I knew it was prime placement for a 1880s western series.

The Dutch Curridge books were successful enough to get me to where I am today. If you’re interested in the colorful history of Fort Worth or Texas in general, you might enjoy them. You might also enjoy the Wilkie John westerns, A World Of Hurt and Dead And Buried. All they really require is the love of a good story about real people. It might help if you lean more toward Elmer Kelton than Louis L’amour. (Kelton’s The Time It Never Rained and The Good Old Boys are still two of my favorite westerns.) As Elmer himself used to say, “I can’t write about heroes seven feet tall and invincible. I write about people five-foot-eight and nervous.” Wilkie John is five-foot-one with a king-size inferiority complex.

Texas in the 1880s was a wild and lawless place. It could still be that way in the 1950s. There are lots of tales about those days. Some aren’t tall at all. Sometimes they pack a pretty mean punch. Sometimes they shoot first and aim second. Sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction. Other times, fiction rings truer than any newspaper article or history book. Whether you like it or not.

 

June pick of the month: James Ziskin’s A Stone’s Throw

This month’s pick of the month was reviewed by Meike Alana, from the BookPeople event staff and a guest blogger for MysteryPeople. 

A Stone's Throw: An Ellie Stone Mystery Cover ImageJames Ziskin is a perennial favorite here at MysterPeople, so it’s no surprise his latest Ellie Stone mystery, A Stone’s Throw, is our June Pick of the Month. The Edgar-nominated series is set in the early 1960’s and features twenty-something girl reporter Ellie Stone. She’s one of my favorite characters in the canon—wise beyond her years but at times naïve and impetuous, steady as they come with the occasional flare of irresponsibility, deeply moral but hard-drinking and promiscuous. Ellie is a realistically flawed, equally strong and vulnerable female character—in other words an authentic young woman–and that can be a novelty on the darker side of the genre. The fact that she’s penned by a man who is—well, let’s say his 20’s were a few years ago—is nothing short of incredible and speaks to Ziskin’s tremendous talent.

This time around Ellie becomes entrenched in the world of horse racing, particularly the seedier side populated by gangsters and thugs. On a sleepless night she follows a police scanner call about a fire at an abandoned stud farm outside Saratoga. While investigating a story for her newspaper, Ellie almost literally stumbles over two bodies that have been burned beyond recognition. She sets out to discover the identities of the two victims; when she learns the fire was sent intentionally she becomes determined to find their killer as well.

To do so she has to convincingly enter the world of horse racing, one to which she’s had no exposure. She needs a guide, someone who understands the history of the sport and the ins and outs of placing a bet. It turns out that Ellie’s best friend Fadge Fiorello is just such an expert. He does show her the ropes at the track and educates her about the key players; unfortunately he’s too busy studying the Racing Form to realize that this just could have been his chance to really impress Ellie. (Instead he has her worrying about his gambling habits….) Through old-fashioned, methodical detective work Ellie is able to piece together the story that caused those 2 individuals to lose their lives.

One of the unique things about this series is that each installment deals with a particular social issue of the time—homophobia, misogyny, sexism.  Ziskin’s done his research here because he never strikes a false note with his depictions of the past. There’s no nostalgic sugar coating—he’s careful not to cast a rosy glow over what was often a turbulent time. While the world of horse racing can be a glamorous one, it has an unseemly side which Ziskin delves into here.

The Ellie Stone mysteries have been recognized by a slew of awards—winner of the Anthony and Macavity and nominated for the Edgar, Barry, and Lefty awards and all of those accolades are earned. Ziskin is a linguist by training and that shows in the lyricism of his prose. We hope he can come up with many more titles involving the word Stone so we can keep watching Ellie grow.