Review: Murder on Brittany Shores by Jean-Luc Bannalec

Murder on Brittany Shores is a superbly plotted mystery that marks the return of Jean-Luc Bannalec's international bestselling series starring the cantankerous, coffee-swigging Commissaire Dupin (Available July 26, 2016).

Commissaire Georges Dupin is having a very bad day. It is a Monday—which is bad enough—but three corpses have also been found, with nothing more known about them other than that they are dead. Very dead.

If he was just an ordinary member of the public, starting his third coffee that morning, he might have mourned the loss of human life, but he could have just got on with his cold, dreary day. However, he is not. He works for the Commissariat de Police Concarneau, which means he must abandon his coffee at his regular café, the Amiral, and step aboard a police speedboat that is waiting for him in the harbor.

On his way to the grisly spectacle, Dupin’s mood is not improved by the fact he is not at all keen on boat travel and he had to abandon his third cup of coffee—two cups are not nearly enough to set this stocky policeman up for the day ahead.

Dupin is not alone on the boat; he is joined by Inspector Riwal, and, for decorum, he attempts to hide his marine displeasure in front of the Inspector, as he does not want to show any sign of weakness in front of his junior. It could have been worse; he could have been joined by his boss, the Prefect, Lug Locmariaquer, whom he can’t stand. Dupin arrives at the beach after a twenty-minute journey.

The lifeless body lay partly on its stomach and partly on its side, the shoulder wedged unnaturally underneath the body. It looked as though it had lost its right arm. Its left arm, which must have been broken, was severely bent. The head was resting almost exactly on the brow, as if someone had deliberately positioned it like that. The face could not be seen. Its blue jacket and the jumper were extremely ragged—on the back and throat, on the back of the head and on the left arm you could see the terrible wounds, superficial and deep. The lower body, by contrast, seemed practically unscathed. It was covered in algae in a few places. The sturdy sailing shoes, both still on the feet, looked new. The man’s age was hard to judge in this pose, perhaps somewhat older than himself, Dupin guessed. Late forties, early fifties. The dead man was not very tall. Dupin knelt down to examine him more carefully. The sea had carried the body far up the beach, a few metres from the line where the white sand stopped sloping gently upwards and the bright green vegetation began.

“The two others are over there, quite close together. They’re in a similar state.” Riwal pointed along the beach.

The dead men tell no tales, or so it goes—there is no identification on the victims or possessions that might give a clue as to their identities.

Jean-Luc Bannalec produces a clever mystery, with well-drawn characters, all picking their way through this tricky and concise plot. It is tightly woven, yet allows enough space in the dialogue and prose for the characters to live and breathe, apart from the victims. The tension bubbles along, both in the direction of the story and the interplay between the characters, many of whom are not quite what they seem. It is subtle, stylish writing and all the better for it.

This part of France is not really well known for cheese, unlike many other areas of the country. It is seafood and pancakes (crepes) that are the main culinary stars. There is a soup made up of all types of seafood, where you can taste each ingredient separately, yet the dish works best as a whole. Bannalec’s writing is like that: busy and concentrated, with a myriad of ingredients, none of which smother the rest. A feast of a novel, with a stillness in the writing that is quite masterly.

The air was absolutely still, even the ubiquitous Atlantic breeze could no longer be felt. Yet it was even hotter than yesterday. At the last moment, the islands had materialized in front of them, as if out of nowhere. And strangely, all of them did so at once. You were left with the impression: this is the last second before you’re dashed on them.

Dupin was briefly overcome by a vague suspicion which he quickly pushed aside. He was busy going over the conversations he’d had today in his head. And the dolphins came into mind again.

The pieces drift apart and are pulled together again as Dupin’s detective work seeks to identify the victims and, slowly but surely, narrow down the list of possible perpetrators of the grisly murders. There are enough twists and turns to satisfy the most critical of crime readers.

Of course, no proper crime book would be complete without the twist in the tale, and this one is subtle, understated, and gripping nonetheless. You will be drawn in to the world of Dupin, and—if you respond like me—will be willing him on to get to his third cup of coffee by the time the book comes to a skilled and creative end.

 

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Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.

Read all Dirk Robertson’s posts for Criminal Element.

Comments

  1. Lawrence Lundigan

    Wonderful story
    In this mystery novel, Dupin learns there are three unidentified dead bodies washed up on shore of an island. It could be an accident from a storm. But, this being a mystery novel, you suspect from the get-go that the deaths were intentional. But why? And who are these individuals? That’s what Dupin and his team have to investigate. The locals are a knowledgeable group – not too many secrets in this area. And they are willing to help this Parisian detective, even if he isn’t from the area. There are four possible motives for these murders, Dupin realizes, as the investigation is underway. And he and his team must follow all four trails – which keeps them busy and fills the pages with their search. The reader gets to weigh the evidence, as to which scenario is the most likely or is it a hybrid of them? I enjoyed this mystery for the unusual Brittany setting and culture – I learned a lot about the area and the native mindset. It will make you want to google names and places to see images. I also enjoyed occupying Dupin’s grumpy mind for several hours as he outwits the bad guys or gals and is always looking for his next cup of good coffee. The issue you will ponder is if the three dead individuals were unlikable, maybe they WERE the bad individuals. And when they got offed, whoever did it did the world a favor.

    The editor and translator, howver, should both be hanged, drswn, and quartered

    St Martins should be ashamed of themselves. I hope that Herr Bong can find a new American publisher

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