Thursday, July 14, 2016
Review: THE CHARLEMAGNE CONNECTION
Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
The second in the Commander Truchaud series finds the diffident policeman unravelling yet another mystery in the little Burgundy village of Nuits-Saint-Georges.
A young German tourist seems to have gone missing. But what at first appears quite a straightforward affair soon turns dark when a decomposing body is found in the woods. Another episode of murder, mayhem, violence and villainy in the orderly vineyards of Burgundy.
There's a lovely leisurely pace to retired doctor RM Cartmel's sophomore mystery novel, which fascinates more with its sumptuous setting and engaging characters than any helter-skelter plotline or knuckle-whitening action sequences.
Commander Truchaud of the French National Police is facing some lingering after-effects of events in THE RICHEBOURG AFFAIR, along with the worsening health of his elderly father, and this sequel plays off that recent past, as well as other historic events which become entwined in the lives of the characters. Thus, it's more a 'work out what has already happened' mystery akin to books from the Golden Age, rather than a modern crime thriller full of ongoing and future threat.
While Cartmel turns the volume down to a low hum crime-wise, where his story is really something to savour is in his evocation of French rural life and the characters that populate his fictional world. He really brings Burgundy to life, and Commander Truchaud - the somewhat straitlaced black sheep of his wine-making family - and his various colleagues, family, and acquaintances, are a fun group to share the journey with. In a way it's the Burgundy wine area equivalent of a classic British village mystery, or an episode of Midsomer Murders or Murder, She Wrote, while being more about the engaging characters and their relationships and a strong sense of place than a complex mystery. You could say Cartmel leans more Ngaio Marsh than Agatha Christie, so to speak.
Overall, I found THE CHARLEMAGNE CONNECTION to be an enjoyable stroll through a pleasant part of the world, alongside some engaging companions. I'd return.
Craig Sisterson writes features for leading publications in several countries. He has interviewed more than 150 crime writers, discussed the genre at arts and literary festivals and on national radio, and is a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson