A lofty title for this post, don’t you think? You could imagine I might be reading The Little Prince, Les Misérables, or Candide… in French perhaps. Well, not exactly. That kind of literature is not really my cup of tea in any language. I prefer something a little more contemporary and a lot more escapist.
As I mentioned earlier this year in a post titled Falling in Love, one of the things I have been doing is reading all kinds of informational books about France. Among them are the following you might want to consider reading yourself even if you are simply a Francophile or are curious about the French.
- Living in France Made Simple by Tanja Bulatovic – The story of what happened to a 40-something, odd-ball introvert whose world turned inside out the day she fell in love with a Frenchman and moved from Australia to France; a very non-traditional experience.
- The Secret Life of France by Lucy Wadham – Wadham left England at 18 to marry a Frenchman and spent the next 25 years married, raising her children, and then divorced all within the French system. She explores the differences between England and France on just about every topic imaginable based on her personal experiences.
- The International Living Guide to Retiring Overseas on a Budget by Suzan Haskins & Dan Prescher – Written by a couple who have lived abroad for many years, this book discusses the best ways to achieve this goal in an array of countries including France; one of the few books on this topic directed at or written by Americans.
- Living Abroad in France by Aurelia D’Andrea – D’Andrea, a journalist from San Francisco who has lived in France twice, provides step-by-step directions for moving and assimilating to France.
- Buying a House in France by Mark Sampson – Sampson’s experience of over 25 years of living in France, buying two different homes, and finally building one of his own. It covers all the essential things to consider and questions to ask if you are planning to do the same.
- Flirting with French by William Alexander – A humorous tale of one man’s attempt to become fluent in French and its surprising repercussions.
- Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong by Jean-Benoit Nadeau & Julie Barlow – A detailed explanation of everything French by a French-Canadian couple who lived and worked for three years in France studying its culture and economy.
Though none of these is the definitive book, without a doubt, they have been very helpful. I have made many notes, followed recommended links, and done further research based on things I have read. The trick is to glean what you can from each book that’s relevant to your own particular situation. However, after so much reading of this kind, it was time to take a break and read something different. I yearned to get back to the fiction novels I love, so I did a Google search for mysteries set in France. Since summer and our trip to France were fast approaching, I wanted to stay in the French frame of mind. I thought if I could find something along these lines it would keep me in the mood and be especially fun to read while I was there. It seemed like a rather narrow search, but low and behold I immediately found a site called The Literary Tourist with an abundant list of suggestions. As I scanned the list, my attention was drawn to the novels of Martin Walker because they were set in the south of France where we would be traveling. I downloaded the first in the series simply titled Bruno, Chief of Police and that’s when my French mystery adventure began.
Of course, these novels don’t exactly qualify as “French Literature” but rather are fictional stories which take place in France. Walker, a Brit more well known as a seasoned journalist and foreign correspondent working for the likes of The Guardian and UPI, has written several non-fiction historical, political books on Gorbachev, Clinton, and others. He brings his writing experience and knowledge of history and world affairs to his detective stories based in the Périgord region of France where he owns a vacation home and now, apparently, spends most of his time. He has become quite well-accepted in the real Perigordian town in which he lives and has had bestowed upon him several prestigious honors rarely afforded to foreigners.
If there’s one thing I love most about the mystery-crime-suspense-espionage genre of books I read, it’s a very likable recurring character — someone I can settle down and spend time with each evening like an old friend. The protagonist and main recurring character of Walker’s series is Bruno Courrèges, the police chief of the small fictional town of St. Denis. It’s really a one-man act as he is the only policeman in town. Bruno is 40 years old and when he’s not socializing with his neighbors, saving the day, or solving crimes, he loves to prepare gourmet Perigordian meals for his friends (and sometimes his current girlfriend) and play with his dog, Gigi. He also coaches the local rugby team. What’s really fun about these stories is the mix of well-written fiction combined with actual facts related to France such as the concern about GMO’s, the Green Party, the Front National, and the idiosyncrasies of French politics.
The first novel sets the scene in St. Denis and introduces many recurring characters along with providing a bit of interesting, uncommonly known information about the French Resistance of WWII as well as French Algeria that play into the mystery. The second novel, The Dark Vineyard, is all about wine and tells the tale of a conspiracy by a California big name wine producer to take over the vineyards of fiercely independent St. Denis. I’m currently devouring number three in the series, Black Diamond, and if you read a previous post, you’ll know that this refers to truffles. The story revolves around solving the mystery of how the Chinese are producing fake truffles and getting them past the French inspectors. If you get addicted to this series, there are several more books that follow so you can “binge read” them like I plan to do. There’s also a fairly entertaining website dedicated to Bruno but also reflecting Walker’s knowledge of his little corner of the Dordogne with recipes, wine, and restaurant recommendations. For a good mystery and some fun reading in an intriguing setting, check out the novels of Martin Walker.
At the moment, we are in the heart of the Périgord only a few miles from Walker’s home and inspiration for his novels. Reading his books while here really makes them come to life.