BookBrowse Reviews Death in Brittany by Jean-Luc Bannalec

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Death in Brittany

A Mystery

by Jean-Luc Bannalec

Death in Brittany by Jean-Luc Bannalec X
Death in Brittany by Jean-Luc Bannalec
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2015, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2016, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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A page-turning mystery which transports readers to the French coast where you can practically smell the sea air.

There will be no summer vacation for me this year. But no matter, because I have enjoyed the next best thing: a tour of the romantic north of France, the province of Brittany, along the Atlantic shore. Well, the locale is romantic. The murder is not, nor is the detective tasked with solving the crime. Turns out Commissaire Georges Dupin, Commissariat de Police, Concarneau, is just about the least romantic guy you would ever meet. A pragmatist to his very core, Dupin values two things above all else – caffeine and fine French food. Oh, and one more thing. He enjoys "a proper case" to sink his prodigious crime-solving teeth into.

Yes. Dupin is of the (American TV detective) Columbo species of police. His visits with suspects invariably conclude with him walking away as if done, then turning back and asking one more question, clarifying one last detail, as if it had suddenly occurred to him – when we and he both know that this was what he had in mind all along. Another Columbo likeness is the fact that he has no (ok, only petty) peccadilloes, as is the current detective vogue. To his regret, "he lacked some of the 'hidden depths', which now seemed a quasi-requirement for his profession; drug addiction, or at least alcoholism, neuroses or depression to a clinical degree, a colorful criminal past, corruption on an interesting scale or several dramatically failed marriages."

None of those. But Dupin does have a temper. Which, truth be told, is what landed him in Brittany two and-a-half years ago. He is not a native to Brittany. He is a Parisian, born and bred. Much as he loved living and working in Paris he found it exceedingly hard to keep his mouth shut. "In the end, according to his file, his downfall had been the time he had chosen a very big public event to 'seriously insult' the mayor of Paris – who interestingly later became the president of France."

So here he is in this fantastically beautiful place where crime is all but unheard of, even at the height of the tourist season, which is just getting started as he sits in his favorite café savoring his morning coffee and croissant. Loathe to disturb his morning routine, he grumpily answers a phone call from one of his officers. There has been a murder. The body of Pierre-Louis Pennec, the 91-year-old owner of the swankiest hotel on the coast, has been found murdered – stabbed several times.

Despite the old man's revered status as the elder from a long line of Pennec hoteliers – a descendent of a woman that played hostess to several of France's most beloved artists including Paul Gauguin – there are several suspects. As Dupin works his way through the laborious process of identifying suspects and orchestrating interrogations and forensics, the one sticking point is motive. It's not that Pennec was without enemies or assets, it's that nothing appears a powerful enough motive to murder him at this time.

Here is where we enjoy a leisurely stroll through the one-of-a-kind beauty of Brittany. Since much of Dupin's process is internal, author Bannalec treats us to the province's scenic treasure as seen through Dupin's eyes. The plot may come to a standstill while we luxuriate in the scenery, but it's okay since it's nice now and then to stop and see (smell, feel, read about) the sea, as Jean-Luc Bannalec paints it:

As evening came on, the light became more and more bewitching. The colours of witchcraft: everything shone brightly, warm, soft and golden. It always seemed to Dupin as though the sun mysteriously made everything glow for a few hours before it set. Things weren't simply lit up; they radiated light from within themselves. Dupin had never seen this kind of light anywhere else in the world, only in Brittany. He was sure this must have been one of the main reasons painters came here.

Mr Bannalec has promised there will be more Dupin mysteries. I will read them for the mystery and for Monsieur Commissaire Dupin, but mostly for the quasi-vacation.

Reviewed by Donna Chavez

This review was originally published in July 2015, and has been updated for the May 2016 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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