The Devil’s Cave by Martin Walker

read by Robert MacKenzie

Martin Walker’s French police chief Bruno Courrèges is to this reviewer a new find and a very welcome addition to the policier genre.

While it is difficult to define precisely just what it is that makes some genre writing better than the competition (and there is a great deal of that), one of the key features of the police procedural novel is the impact of the opening, and the plot hook that urges the reader/listener on. In The Devil’s Cave, we have a naked woman, one of her eyes pecked out by birds, drifting downstream into a small French village in the Dordogne, her boat littered with the what appears to be the satanic paraphernalia of black magic ritual. 

Walker’s depiction of rural France, its characters and its politics is especially good, and he fills the book – the fifth in a series of Bruno Courrèges novels – with a lively and thoroughly convincing cast of cheats and villains, and with a fair smattering of romance and nostalgia thrown in. There are the poor farmers and their children, desperate to leave home and seek a decent living anywhere else; the mayor, keen to promote anything that might bring much needed prosperity to his locale; clearly untrustworthy wealthy young Parisians, with proposals for lucrative property development – provided the town comes up with some capital; foreign dignitaries (or members of their families) wanting carnal diversion and profit; and various hangovers from Vichy collaboration and the Résistance.  And then there is the Gouffre de Colombac – the Devil’s Cave of the title – a tourist attraction that goes out of its way to milk the tourism potential of the newsworthy notoriety of devil worship and homicide, even though this is bound to put the detectives off the scent of the real perpetrators.

A satisfying and skilfully crafted novel, much enhanced through Robert MacKenzie’s well-paced narration, The Devil’s Cave has a great deal to recommend it. The setting is charming, the police chief – almost a Gallic Montalbano – is honest, straight and truthful, and the dénouement is exciting and satisfying: a great piece of work.
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