The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker: A review

I decided to take a break from my serious reading to catch up with Chief of Police Bruno Courrèges from the idyllic village of St. Denis in the Dordogne region of France. This is the fourth entry in the popular series.

Billed as mysteries, the books are as much travelogs and gourmet cookbooks. Bruno is an accomplished chef who enjoys cooking for his friends and promoting the famous cuisine of the region. One of the staples of that cuisine is foie gras and that plays an important role in this story.

First, one has to be aware that Chief of Police Bruno tries never to arrest anybody. He always tries to mediate disputes which arise within his jurisdiction, and that is mainly the kind of action which the police get there. Petty disputes.

In this book, the dispute is between the local farmers who produce the birds for foie gras and animal rights activists, including PETA. There is also a new and inexperienced magistrate assigned to the area and she is a vegetarian and is hostile to the whole idea of force-feeding animals. At one point, one of the characters smugly (a lot of the characters in these books are smug, including Bruno) explains:
Kasimir grinned. “If there’s any cruelty, blame Mother Nature. Ducks and geese always stuff themselves to swell their livers before they fly off on winter migration. That’s how they store their energy. Everybody knows that.” From the look on Teddy’s face, it didn’t appear to Bruno that he knew that gavage, the force-feeding of the birds, was also a natural process. He glanced at Annette. She also looked surprised. 
One could point out that those ducks and geese are eating as much as they can to provide the energy that they need to survive the long autumn migration and they are eating naturally when they do so. They are not having their beaks forced open and food shoved down their gullets. Also, another character states that the farmers take care to do "minimal" injury to the gullets of the birds which they force feed, and I had to wonder just how much injury a human considers "minimal" to a bird's gullet and how does he judge that.

Sorry, Kasimir and Bruno, I'm with Annette and PETA on this one. I won't be ordering up any foie gras.

But that is an aside. The main action in this book involves the ETA, Basque terrorist group, and an archaeological dig on a St. Denis property.

This area is the location of many important finds related to Neanderthal and Cro Magnon groups and the dig described here is searching for evidence of interaction and possible interbreeding between those groups. It looks very promising. Then one of the students working with the archeologists digs up a body that is definitely not a Neanderthal or a Cro Magnon. It's a body of a man who has been in the ground for perhaps twenty-five years. He had his hands tied behind his back and had been shot in the head. Bruno and the other police authorities suspect it was an execution by the ETA.

Serendipitously, there is a meeting scheduled in St. Denis between French and Spanish authorities to discuss Basque terrorism on their border and how to deal with it. Will the ETA try to disrupt that meeting? Bruno and his cohorts must plan for the worst case scenario.

This series provides pleasant enough reads. I do enjoy the travelog aspects and, in general, the descriptions of food, but I do get rather irritated with some of the smugness of certain characters and with Bruno's dithering over his love life. Women seem to be constantly falling over themselves to seduce him. Which one will he choose? As someone else noted in their review, he reminds me of no one so much as Stephanie Plum wringing her hands over having to choose between Ranger and Joe. I got so irritated with her I finally had to stop reading that series. Not there yet with Bruno, but be forewarned, Martin Walker!

My rating: 3 of 5 stars    


  1. Ooh, too bad you are getting fed up with Bruno; he seems like a nice character. And those recipes you mention definitely got my attention. 😉

    1. Overall, it is a nice series and the descriptions of the meals that Bruno and others cook are truly mouth-watering!

  2. Back from my holiday blogging vacation. Catching up on posts. I have found many French men to be smug. So did Simone de Beauvoir! I have not given up on Stephanie Plum yet though I am not that far into her series. Yesterday I learned that Sue Grafton died last week. The alphabet ends at W. I bet she was relieved on that point but sad to see her go.

    1. Martin Walker seems to catch that smugness in his portrayal of these characters.

      Yes, I was very sad to learn of Sue Grafton's death. A minor correction - she actually got to Y. Y is for Yesterday. I read and reviewed it last August; not her best effort but still enjoyable. Maybe "yesterday" was an appropriate note on which to end.

    2. I meant Y! Good on you for catching my typo. I guess she had a title and a concept for Z but was too ill to get it written. It was to be called Z is for Zero!


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