After reading Martin Walker’s The Body in the Castle Well, the 14th book in the series about Chief of Police Bruno Courrèges, I Googled real estate listings in the Périgord, known for its castles, caves, gastronomy and lush landscape of rolling hills, woods and vineyards. From Walker’s description, this region in southwestern France seems like an ideal place to live even if you have to deal with the type such skullduggery as truffle fraud, archaeological vandalism, arson, drugs and even terrorists Bruno encounters on a regular basis.
“There’ so much inspiration and history here,” says Walker who, with his wife, splits his time between Washington D.C. and Le Bugue, a small village in the Périgord where they own a home. The home came about, says Walker who talks like he writes, with many wonderful asides, when he was waiting in the Oval Office and received a phone call from his wife.
“She said I don’t care what you’re doing, get on the next plane and come here, I just found our house,” he says, noting he explained to her he was meeting with the president so it might have to wait just a while. Besides that, he didn’t even know they were buying a house.
Of course, they did and now live in an old farmhouse dating back to 1698 with several newer outbuildings, if you consider the 1700s new and in France they do.
Of course, there are always obstacles even in paradise.
“One of the challenges for anyone writing crime stories is finding places for bodies,” says Walker, who speaks French, Russian, English, Arabic, German and a just enough of other languages to get himself in trouble. “I drive around with an eagle eye looking for the perfect spot for a body. I was in Limeuil, a lovely village, and there it was, the castle well.”
So that’s where the body of Claudia, a young art student ends up, in what first looks like an accident and turns out to be much more ominous.
“She’s studying with Pierre de Bourdeille, one of the greatest art experts in the world, a hero of the French Resistance,” says Walker. “She told Bruno a little of her concerns about the attributions de Bourdeille made about his paintings which drove up prices and then she turns up dead.”
Another suspect is a falconer (so we get to learn about the ancient art of hunting with falcons) who met Claudia the day after her got out of prison. As compelling as the mystery is, so is Bruno’s life. He’s a gourmet chef, has his own blog and a cookbook, written by Walker’s wife, which is a best seller in Germany where it’s sold 100,000 copies. But unless you read the language, don’t bother as it’s not published in English though Walker encourages people to call his publisher and demand that it be.
The Bruno books are quite a segue for the Oxford educated Walker who served as bureau chief in Moscow and the U.S. and as European Editor for The Guardian, a British daily newspaper and wrote lengthy tomes (ponderous and boring he says, though noting they won awards) like The Iraq War and The Makers of the American Century.
“The 15th is already done,” he says. “And I’m thinking of the next. They’re fun to write.”
Asked what his favorite is, he replies, “my favorite is always the latest or the one I’m working on right now.”
What: Martin Walker: The Body in the Castle Well
When: Tuesday, June
Where: The Book Stall, 811 Elm St., Winnetka, IL
Cost: Free and open to the public, but The Book Stall asks that you buy your books from them if you intend on entering the book-signing queue.
FYI: 847-446-8880; thebookstall.com