I have loved Martin Walker’s mysteries featuring chief of police Benoît “Bruno” Courrèges, whose stewardship of the small village of St. Denis is marked by compassion and an almost infinite capacity of human understanding. In The Patriarch, Walker falters for the first time, falling prey to the explication trap that captures far too many mystery series authors.
As always, the history and culture of Dordogne are a vital element in The Patriarch. The title character, the Patriarch is a hero of the Free French Air Force–a pilot who flew for the Free French Normandie-Niemen Regiment of the Soviet Union during World War II on the Eastern Front. Here in the United States, we prefer to pretend we won on our own with a little help from the British and erase nearly all of the Soviet contribution except when we focus on our race to beat them to Berlin as though the enemy, not the ally. The story of the Patriarch, though fictional, shed light on a little known history of the war.
Of course, heroes are always better unexamined and as Bruno investigates a mysterious death at the Patriarch’s party, this hero’s feet of clay are revealed. This was a disappointing mystery, the killer was obvious before we were halfway through the book simply because the killer was the one who most embodied stereotypical murder mystery villain tropes. Bruno always was uncharacteristically susceptible and naive.
The most irritating element of the story was the rehashing of past mysteries. As Bruno drives from place to place, he is is reminded and reminds of of this, that, and the other case from earlier books. We do not need this. If we don’t remember that this copse was the scene for that murder or that farm was where this murderer was captured, that is fine. We do not need to know it. We all have that relative who narrates the history of every road and byway every single time they drive down it and we tolerate because they are our family and we love them. It is less tolerable in a novel.
Of course, I will probably continue to read Martin Walker’s Bruno mysteries as new ones are released in hopes that this was just a singular weak offering. There was still the delicious food and bonhomie that makes the people in his novels shine. You will hear your stomach growl and grumble while you drool over Bruno’s magnificent feasts. You will still love the unique and precious history of the region and the wonderful characters that form this familiar community. I give this two stars. It was a disappointment. but still worth reading.