Book Review: The Granite Coast Murders by Jean-Luc Bannalec

In the sixth installment of Jean-Luc Bannalec's mystery series, Commissaire Dupin returns to investigate a murder at a gorgeous Brittany beach resort.

The Granite Coast Murders combines many felicitous elements, like stunning surroundings, a fish-out-of-water commissaire, and a chère amie determined that Commissaire Dupin fully embrace a fortnight’s vacation at the beach in Brittany. Claire is thwarted by the Trégastel-Plage villagers who are eager to enlist Dupin into solving the myriad mysteries on their doorstep. Dupin seems willing to unwind: is it the phenomenal food, the humor found in the local newspaper, the relaxed hours on the sand, or Doctor Claire Lannoy’s delightful company? But not even his bucolic surroundings can withstand the allure of unsolved crimes. 

The air was crystal clear, thanks to the light breeze from the Atlantic. The dominant colors contrasted exquisitely: the shining blue of the sky, the greeny-blue turquoise of the sea, and the pink of the sand and rocks.

 

It was breathtakingly beautiful. Surreal even.

 

La douceur de vivre.” That was the way one felt on carefree, balmy summer days like these, the “gentle sweetness of life.” Or as the locals said, La vie en roz—La vie en rose.

 

For Georges Dupin it was hell.

 

They were on vacation. A beach vacation. Nothing could be worse.

 

“Just lying on the beach” was how Claire had envisioned it. No obligations, no meetings, no work. She had insisted on one stipulation, that they would both promise one thing: that for these few days, they would “under no condition” have anything to do with the commissariat in Concarneau or the clinic in Quimper. No matter what.

Readers will surely put the Pink Granite Coast of Brittany at the top of their post-quarantine bucket list, but Georges had his fingers crossed when he promised Claire he’d take two weeks off.  Nolwenn, Dupin’s assistant, won’t take Georges’s calls when he makes the simplest, most innocuous inquiries about the odd goings-on in Trégastel-Plage. First, an historic statue is missing—Monsieur Bellet, the innkeeper, tells Dupin a “statue of Saint Anne was stolen from the Chapelle Sainte-Anne the day before yesterday.” In addition, Bellet reports that the Gustave Effeil House was broken into. Can Georges ignore these occurences in favor of focusing on the superb local cuisine? Consider the tomatoes that make up a first course. Natalie, their waitress, is justifiably proud and boasts to Georges and Claire. 

Millefeuille de tomates saveurs d’antan, yellow, green, and red tomatoes. Heritage varieties, a real sensation. “Fresh from our hotel garden. Right around now the coeur de boeuf are at peak flavor.”

They are disturbed when a loud quarrel erupts between a blonde woman and her older husband, although they ignore it while planning a few excursions away from the beach. A little later the unhappy wife storms off. It doesn’t take long for Georges and Claire to become Jovial but can a classic workaholic change his spots?

Vacation is when you hit the break and shift your mind away from work so you can recharge your internal batteries and rejuvenate. For some reason many of us can’t let go of work and give up control.

Guilty as charged would be Dupin’s response, but in his defense, new crimes are mounting up. A local politician is injured when her window is shattered, and she is cut by shards of glass. Was it a deliberate attack? The stormy blonde wife doesn’t return the morning after her tumultuous departure. A body is discovered. The innkeeper, his wife, and Madame Riou, the proprietor of the local newspaper store, persist in inveigling Dupin to get to the bottom of things. It’s not difficult for the villagers to pull him aside because Dupin frequently escapes the beach—to get soft drinks, wine, newspapers, food, and anything else he can think of to break up the monotony.  

Readers familiar with Jean-Luc Bannalec’s Brittany mysteries will know when Georges Dupin throws caution to the wind and embraces the task at hand—a new notebook is the tell-tale sign. 

Out of habit Dupin had almost bought himself a little red Clairefontaine notebook and a couple of Bic pens to go with it, his classic equipment for all his cases. He hadn’t just been using the notebooks since—like his father before him—he began working for the police in Paris, but since his childhood. What nobody knew was that it had been his father who had bought him his first Clairefontaine. Dupin had used it to imagine whole crime cases. Fantasies which for him took the shape of reality and captured his attention for weeks at a time. Right now it was only at the last minute that he put the red notebook back on the shelf and bough an inconspicuous blue one. Claire of course knew that red notebooks meant work.

Doubtless Claire is too smart to think that a new Clairefontaine notebook means anything but that Georges is on the hunt. It’s a bit of a chef’s kiss to learn that the good doctor is also having a difficult time ignoring questions from her hospital colleagues. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander? For Georges and Claire, a mystery plus a vacation is like a Busman’s Honeymoon. And what would a romantic vacation, interwoven with some very mysterious goings-on, be without a touch of humor? Georges amuses himself daily with the local paper’s saucy “Are You a Breton?” quiz.

You know you’re a Breton if you turn up late and used one of the following excuses: 

 

I came on the tractor

 

I was attacked by seagulls

 

I injured both hands on a sardine can

 

My favorite pig died.

This was my first encounter with the persistent and clever Commissaire Dupin: luckily, there’s a backlist to enjoy while I look forward to the seventh Brittany mystery. 

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