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  • Written by Martin Walker
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A Mystery of the French Countryside

Written by Martin WalkerAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Martin Walker


List Price: $11.99


On Sale: July 09, 2013
Pages: 336 | ISBN: 978-0-385-34953-6
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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It's spring in St. Denis. The village choir is preparing for its Easter concert, the wildflowers are blooming, and among the lazy whorls of the river a dead woman is found floating in a boat. This means another case for Bruno, the town’s cherished chief of police.
With the discovery of sinister markings and black candles near the body, it seems to Bruno that the occult might be involved. And as questions mount—most notably about a troubling real estate proposal in the region and the sudden reappearance of an elderly countess—Bruno and his colleagues are drawn ever closer to a climactic showdown in the Gouffre de Colombac: the place locals call the Devil’s Cave.


Chapter 1
Bruno Courrèges seldom felt happier about the community he served as chief of police than when standing at the rear of the ancient stone church of St. Denis, listening to rehearsals of the town choir. Unlike the formal ceremonies at Mass when the singers dressed in neat white surplices, the choir practiced in their normal dress, usually gathering immediately after work. But Father Sentout’s daring decision that the choir should reach beyond its usual repertoire to attempt Bach’s St. Matthew Passion had required some additional rehearsals early in the morning. Farmers stood alongside schoolteachers and accountants, waitresses and shopkeepers. These were people Bruno knew, wearing clothes he recognized, and usually singing hymns that were familiar, perhaps the only memory of his church orphanage that still gave him pleasure.
On this Saturday morning two weeks before Easter, the twenty-four choristers were mostly in casual clothes, and the front pews of the church were filled with coats and shop-ping baskets they would take to the town’s market, about to get under way in the street outside. As he entered the twelfth-century church, Bruno heard the first notes that led into the chorus of “Behold Him as a Lamb.” The noises of the street seemed to ebb away behind him as Florence’s pure soprano voice filled the nave. He knew there should be two choirs and two orchestras, but St. Denis made do with its trusty organ and the enthusiasm of its singers plus, of course, the determination of Father Sentout, whose love of choral music was matched only by his devotion to the pleasures of the table and the for-tunes of the local rugby team. It made him, Bruno thought, an entirely suitable pastor for this small town in the gastronomic and sporting heartland of France.
The early morning sun lifted above the ridge to the east of St. Denis and flooded the top of the stained-glass window. Shafts of blue, gold and red lanced into the body of the church. Father Sentout’s black soutane stood out against the roseate glow that now suffused the choir. Bruno’s eye was drawn irresistibly to Florence, dressed in white with a bright red scarf at her throat. Her head was raised as she sang alone, knowing the music too well to need to look at her score. Her fair hair was lit by the sunlight into something almost like a halo.
It had been one of his better moves, Bruno thought, to have found Florence the job of science teacher at the local collège. The post brought with it a subsidized apartment on the collège grounds, more than big enough for a divorced young woman and her infant twins. She was a fi ne addition to the life of the town and particularly to the choir. Father Sentout might not have dared attempt the St. Matthew Passion without her. For the first time, she seemed to notice Bruno standing in the nave. Her face softened into a smile, and she nodded to acknowledge his presence. Other choristers raised their hands in greeting. Bruno felt the familiar trembling at his waist as his mobile phone began to vibrate. Reluctantly, he slipped outside to take the call.
“Bruno, it’s Marie,” he heard. She ran the Hôtel de la Gare beside the railway station, now unmanned to cut costs on rural lines in order to finance the massive investment in high-speed trains. “I’ve been asked to pass on a message. Julien Devenon says there’s a naked woman in a boat drifting down the river. He says he saw her from the railway bridge as he walked along the line.”
Her voice sounded strained. Bruno thought of Julien, just entering puberty, transfixed by the sight of a naked woman. But this was troubling. Despite the spring sunshine, this was no time for sunbathing; not even for the Dutch, German and Scandinavian tourists who seemed to discard their clothes at the slightest opportunity.
“He gets the train to his lycée in Périgueux,” Marie added. She paused and her voice took on a deeper note. “He thought she was dead.”
“Is Julien still there?” Bruno pictured the boy’s eager face as he trotted out for rugby practice.
“No, he had to catch his train. He would have called him-self, but his dad had confiscated his phone.”
There would be a story behind that, Bruno thought.
“So when did he see this boat? Was it just in the last few minutes?” Bruno tried to calculate how long a boat drifting downstream might take to reach the great stone bridge at St. Denis, probably the nearest place he’d be able to intercept it and bring it ashore.
“He said he ran to tell me and the train was just leaving with him as I called you. So maybe three minutes ago, not much more.”
Bruno ended the conversation and darted up the rue de Paris, dodging between the market stalls and unloading trucks. He brushed aside the outstretched hands and proffered cheeks of the men and women he usually greeted twice each week on market days. He ducked under bales of cloth, dodged trolleys laden with fresh vegetables and skirted men carrying giant wheels of cheese on their heads as he made for the town square and the bridge. Just as he reached it his phone vibrated again, and this time it was Pierrot, the town’s most dedicated fisherman.
“You’re not going to believe what I’ve just seen in the river,” he began.
“A naked woman in a boat. I heard already. Where are you exactly?”
“By the campsite, where the bank is high. There’s a bend in the river there and the trout—”
“How fast is the river moving that boat?” Bruno interrupted.
“Five minutes and it will be at the bridge, maybe a bit more,” Pierrot said. “It’s pretty waterlogged. One of those old fl at-bottomed boats, haven’t seen one for years. Thing is, Bruno, she’s lying on her back, naked as a worm, arms out-stretched. I think she’s dead.”
“We’ll find out. Thanks, Pierrot,” said Bruno, closing his phone as he reached the stone bridge. He looked upstream, blinking against the dazzle of the sun on water. There was no sign of a boat, so he had a little time. He punched the autodial for the medical center into his phone and asked for Fabiola.
“She’s not on today,” said Juliette at the reception desk. “Something about a private patient, which I never heard of before. I’ll put you through to Dr. Gelletreau. He’s on call today.”
“Don’t bother,” said Bruno, talking as he walked briskly back to the church, ducking and weaving through the obstacle course of market stalls. “I don’t have time to talk. Just tell the doctor to get to the stone bridge where it looks like we might have a dead body floating downstream. I’ll meet him there.”
He needed Antoine, with a canoe, and Antoine was in the choir. He slipped in through the small portal that was cut into the huge wooden doors and was rocked by the sheer volume the choir was now generating, one half singing “See him!” and the other half replying “Whom?”
Just before Florence could soar into the solo “O Lamb of God Most Holy,” Bruno strode forward to tap Father Sentout on the shoulder. The choir stopped raggedly, uncertain, but the organ notes swept on, and Father Sentout opened his eyes, blinking in surprise at the sight of Bruno.
“I’m sorry, Father, it’s an emergency,” said Bruno, his voice loud to carry over the organ. “There could be a life at stake. I need Antoine most urgently.”
The organ music stopped with a dying wheeze from the pipes.
“You want my Jesus?” the priest asked, uncertainly.
Bruno swallowed hard, trying to comprehend the meaning of the question. Then he remembered that Antoine was singing the role of Jesus.
“He’s a waterman and there’s a body floating down the river,” Bruno said, speaking to the choir as much as to Father Sentout. “A woman, in a boat.”
“I don’t have a canoe nearby,” Antoine said, striding down from the apse and picking up a jacket from the front pew. A burly man, he had wide and powerful shoulders from a lifetime of paddling and manhandling canoes. “My canoes are all back at the campsite today.”
“I’ll need you anyway,” said Bruno. He led the way through the thickening market crowd and back to the river, suddenly aware that most of the choir seemed to be following, along with Father Sentout.
Passersby and some of the stallholders looked up at the swelling line behind Bruno, and with the automatic curiosity that draws a crowd when people sense a drama unfolding they joined behind. Soon they were clustering at the side of the bridge as Bruno and Antoine spotted the vessel they were expecting tracing lazy circles as it drifted with the current.
“It might get caught up on the sandbank,” said Antoine. “Otherwise we’d better get down to my campsite and take out a canoe, tow it ashore.”
“Could I wade into the river and catch it here?” Bruno asked.
“Better not,” said Antoine, demonstrating why Bruno had been right to interrupt the choir and summon the boatman. “See that current where it comes through the first arch of the bridge? That’s the deep channel. You’d be up to your neck or even deeper. You wouldn’t have the footing to drag it ashore.”
More and more of the townsfolk were gathering on the bridge, craning their necks to watch the boat draw steadily nearer. Among them, camera at the ready, was Philippe Delaron from the photography shop, who doubled as the local correspondent for Sud Ouest. Bruno groaned inwardly. A ghoulish newspaper photo of a corpse in a boat was not the image of St. Denis that he or the mayor would seek to portray.
“It’s a punt,” said Antoine, surprise in his voice. “I haven’t seen one of those in a long time. They used them for hunting wildfowl in the old days before they built the dams upriver, when we still had wetlands with the flooding every spring.”
“Should we head for your campsite and get the canoe?” Bruno was eager to do something.
“Better wait and see if it gets through the current around the bridge,” said Antoine, lighting a yellow cigarette, a Gitane Maïs. Bruno had forgotten they still made them. “If it founders, there’s no point. And it might still get stuck on the sandbank. If it doesn’t, I’ve got an idea. Follow me.”
Antoine thrust his way back through the crowd and down the steep and narrow stone steps that led from the bridge to the quay where the annual fishing contests were held. Three fishermen sat on their folding stools, each watching his own float and casting the occasional sidelong glance to see if his neighbors were having better luck. None of them seemed to pay much attention to the crowd on the bridge.
“Patrice, can you cast a line into that drifting boat and see if you can pull it into the bank?” Antoine asked the first of the anglers.
Patrice half turned and eyed Antoine sourly. He mumbled something through closed lips.
“What was that?” Bruno asked.
Patrice opened his mouth and took out three wriggling maggots from where he’d kept them under his tongue. It was something Bruno had seen the baron do when they went fi shing. Maggots were sluggish in the chill of the morning, and a devoted fisherman would put some in his mouth to get them warm and energetic enough to attract fish once they were on the hook. It was one of the reasons Bruno knew he’d never be a real angler.
“I’ll lose my bait, could lose a hook and line,” Patrice said, putting his maggots back into the old tobacco can where he kept his bait. He paused, squinting against the sun. “Is this your business, Bruno?”
Bruno outlined the discovery to Patrice, a small, hunched man, married for forty years to a woman twice his size with a loud and penetrating voice to match. That probably explained the amount of time he spent fishing, Bruno had often thought.
“I’d try it myself, but you’re the best man with a rod and line,” Bruno said. He had learned back in his army days that a little flattery was the easiest way to turn a reluctant conscript into an enthusiastic volunteer.
Across the river, a white open-topped sports car with sweeping lines raced around the corner of the medical center to the bank where the trailers parked. It braked hard and stopped, wheels spitting up gravel. A fair-haired young man climbed out dressed as if for tennis in the 1930s. He wore a white sports shirt and cream trousers with a colorful belt and ran toward the riverbank shedding his shirt. He paused on the bank to remove his white tennis shoes.
“The guy’s crazy,” said Antoine, spitting out his cigarette. “He’s going to dive in.”
Behind him another figure stepped gracefully from the car, a woman with remarkably long legs, dressed in black tights and what looked like a man’s white shirt, tightly belted with a black sash. Her face was pale and her hair covered in a black turban. The way she moved made Bruno think of a ballerina. She advanced to the bank beside the fair-haired man, and they looked upriver as if trying to assess when the punt might be in reach. The man began wading into the shallows as Bruno called out to him to stop.
Patrice had his line out of the water. He had removed his bait and fl oat and was fixing his heaviest hook, looking up every few seconds to watch the speed of the punt’s approach.
“I’m ready,” he said. “Stand aside and don’t get behind me. This will be a hell of a cast.”
Standing at the riverbank, Bruno could see nothing of the dead woman. But something close to three feet tall and black was standing up in the punt, almost like a very short mast. Antoine shrugged when Bruno asked him what it might be.
The punt’s corner seemed to catch on the edge of the sandbank, and it slowed and turned as if heading for the far bank. Bruno heard cheers and whistles coming from the crowd on the bridge as the young man plunged deeper, assuming that the shallows ran all the way to the sandbank. They didn’t, and he sank beneath the surface, then rose, shaking his head and striking out for the punt in a powerful crawl.
But some eddy or wayward current caught the vessel and pushed it free of the sandbank and into the deeper, faster cur-rent where it begin drifting toward Bruno’s side of the bank. Patrice tensed, lifted his rod over his head and cast high and far. Bruno watched as the line snaked out and the hook and sinker landed just on the far side of the punt, and held.
“Got it,” said Patrice, almost to himself.
The man in the water suddenly stopped. He must have reached the sandbank. He stood and staggered across it to where the punt was fast moving out of his reach and launched himself into a desperate, flailing dive almost as if he wanted to land inside the punt itself. One hand landed hard on the fl at rear corner, and the punt rocked so that water slopped over its side.
“The stupid bastard’s going to sink it,” said Antoine.
As the punt tipped toward him, Bruno caught a glimpse of the woman, her fair hair glinting gold in the sun, her arms outstretched and her head lolling as the vessel rolled. Some-thing else inside the boat flashed a bright reflection, possibly a bottle. There seemed to be some marking, perhaps a large tattoo, on the woman’s torso. Whatever stumpy mast had been rising from the boat had now fallen.
The swimmer sank beneath the water, his hand slipping from the wood. Patrice gently began to apply pressure to guide the punt toward him. But like some whale leaping from the sea, the swimmer launched himself up again for a final, despairing effort. His hand just touched the side, but his grip failed, and the punt rocked even more as he plunged back down into the river.
The woman on the far bank strode back to the car, started the engine and swiftly turned the car to leave. She left the motor running as she climbed out, taking a towel from the backseat, and hurried down to the bank to help the swimmer.
“The damn fool broke my line,” said Patrice, spitting in disgust. The punt gathered speed as it moved into the deeper current and headed for the bridge. “That’s my best hook gone and no time to tie another. There’s no more I can do for you, Bruno.”
Martin Walker

About Martin Walker

Martin Walker - The Devil's Cave

Photo © Günter Schilhan

MARTIN WALKER is a senior fellow of the Global Business Policy Council, a private think tank for CEOs of major corporations, based in Washington, D.C. He is also editor in chief emeritus and international affairs columnist at United Press International. His previous novels in the Bruno series are Black Diamond; Bruno, Chief of Police; The Crowded Grave; The Dark Vineyard; The Devil's Cave, and The Resistance Man, all international best sellers. He lives in Washington, D.C., and the Dordogne.


“Bruno Courrèges may be France’s . . . answer to dapper James Bond.”
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Sensational . . . Gives Walker more opportunity to play tour guide, leading us through the checkered history of this astonishing region.”
The New York Times
“A sumptuous French mystery filled with wine, cheese, and a lush Dordogne countryside.”
The Christian Science Monitor
“Bruno Courrèges is a wonderful breath of fresh air in a world of bent cops with whiskey noses, dubious attitudes and principles. . . . A terrific addition to a compelling series.”
The New York Journal of Books 

The Devil’s Cave brings to life a pastoral setting where the gourmet menu is as spicy as the sex, and where readers can share in the timeless beauty of the French countryside, laced with a little murder.”

“Another tasty read.”
The Decatur Daily

“A series that is maturing as richly as the wines and cheeses that grace its pages.”

“Charming. . . . Bruno, an affable gourmet and dogged investigator, is a winning lead, and Walker perfectly balances developments in his private life with the homicide inquiry.”
Publishers Weekly

“An affordable way to have an adventure in the French countryside this summer. . . . Strikes a captivating balance between suspense and delight.”
The Washingtonian
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Book

The introduction, discussion questions, and suggested further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of The Devil’s Cave, the fifth novel in Martin Walker’s acclaimed Bruno series.

About the Guide

In Martin Walker’s thrilling new novel, intrepid Chief of Police Bruno Courrèges finds himself confronted by a series of crimes and shady real estate schemes that baffle him, threaten the community he serves, and lead to a terrifying encounter in the Devil’s Cave.

The novel is set in the fictional small town of St. Denis, France, along the Dordogne River, a beautiful region renowned for its cuisine and its many prehistoric caves. It’s a relaxed, tight-knit community, but its peace is broken when Bruno is called away from listening to a choir practice by the news that a dead woman has been seen drifting down the river naked in a boat. When she’s pulled ashore, it’s not clear if her death was a suicide or homicide, but there is some evidence that she’s been the victim of a Satanist ritual. The bizarre details—the presence of black candles, an empty vodka bottle, and a pentagram drawn on the woman’s body—quickly become headlines, creating just the kind of media storm the mayor of wants to avoid. He has thrown his support behind a development project that would bring to St. Denis a high-end resort and a sports complex that would create an economic boom for the area.

Meanwhile, Bruno must deal with several other problems—a complaint of wife beating against the farmer Louis Junot and a rising tide of suspicion about the real estate plans. During one of his daily rides on his horse Hector, Bruno encounters the beautiful Eugénie, who is involved, with her partner, Foucher, in the development project, and serves as a nurse to the bedridden Red Countess—an aristocratic Communist and heroine of the French Resistance.

The plot thickens when a goat’s head and more black candles are discovered in the Devil’s Cave and Bruno learns that a neighboring town had been cheated in a real estate deal very similar to the one proposed for St. Denis. When Junot is killed in a suspicious accident, Bruno fears he may have two murders on his hands. And the more he learns about the resort project, the more he worries that St. Denis is about to be swindled. But how are all these threads connected? As the novel races to its dramatic conclusion, Bruno is drawn into the depths of the cave and a terrifying confrontation in an attempt to save a young woman’s life—a confrontation that forces Bruno to draw on all his courage, military training, and self-discipline.

What makes The Devil’s Cave so enjoyable and so distinctive is that its hero, Chief of Police Bruno Courrèges, is so unlike many protagonists of recent detective novels. He is not an alcoholic loner, or at odds with his family, or detached from his community. On the contrary, Bruno is deeply involved with the life of St. Denis—he coaches the boys’ rugby team and is known by everyone. Moreover, he is eminently sane, healthy, wise. He’s a shrewd and brilliantly observant police chief, but he’s far from cynical. He likes solutions where everybody seems to win. When the drunken farmer Junot attacks him, Courrèges knocks him down, as any good police officer would, but then helps the man get his tractor started, an act as surprising as it is admirable. Bruno is also a food lover and an accomplished cook. The novel’s frequent, elaborate descriptions of the splendid meals he prepares may make readers want to sign up for French cooking lessons. Indeed, the many passages about daily life in St. Denis and Bruno’s personal life—his horse and dog, his romantic relationships, his involvement in the local politics of the town—all create a marvelously rich portrait of the community Bruno serves and which in turn sustains him.

About the Author

Martin Walker is senior director of the Global Business Policy Council, a private think tank for CEOs of major corporations, based in Washington, D.C. He is also editor in chief emeritus and an international affairs columnist at United Press International. His four novels in the Bruno series are Bruno, Chief of Police; The Dark Vineyard; Black Diamond; and The Crowded Grave. He lives in Washington, D.C., and the Dordogne.

Discussion Guides

1. What makes Bruno such a likable protagonist? What are his most appealing qualities? What attributes help make him such a good detective? In what sense is Bruno a hero?

2. Early in the novel, Father Sentout, worried that the dead woman found in a boat has been the victim of a Satanism, asserts “They are forever at war within us, God and Satan, and our souls are never in greater danger than when we forget that” [p. 72]. Does the novel bear out his belief in this inner conflict between good and evil? Or are the crimes the novel explores simply a matter of greed and lust, which can be explained in purely secular terms?

3. After Junot’s suspicious death, Bruno acknowledges that “If he had a murder, or even two, he had no obvious motive for either one. He had some proof and plenty of suspects but no chain of logic to bind them together into any kind of coherent explanation for the deaths of Athénaïs and Junot, let alone connect them” [p. 256]. How does Bruno get from this state of almost total bafflement to solving the murders? What is the chain of logic that connects the murders?

4. Though The Devil’s Cave is at times a fast-paced thriller, it frequently slows down and luxuriates in the details of daily life in the small town of St. Denis. What do the many passages about cooking, horses, basset hounds, and so on, as well as Bruno’s romantic life, add to the novel?

5. How is Bruno regarded by the community of St. Denis he serves? How does he regard his role in that community?

6. When Bruno confronts Junot about the claim of wifebeating, Junot attacks him. Most policemen or detectives would have hauled Junot off to jail immediately. Instead, Bruno helps him get his tractor started. What does this encounter reveal about Bruno?

7. The theme of violence against women runs throughout the novel. What forms of ill treatment and exploitation of women does the novel explore?

8. When Bruno first encounters Eugénie, he observes that some would have thought her beautiful, with her perfect features and ivory complexion. “But there was a lack of animation or perhaps too much self-control in her face,” he says [p. 51]. What else does Bruno notice about Eugénie that makes him wary of her? How do Bruno’s very subtle powers of observation serve him as a detective?

9. Why does Isabelle choose not to stay in St. Denis and make a life with Bruno? Why is Bruno unwilling to go to Paris to be with her? Would Bruno be a less appealing character if he were married?

10. When Bruno realizes he can use the photographer Delaron for his own purposes—to get the newspaper to investigate the links between the vacation village and  Gaston Lemontin’s file on Thivion—he reflects that he likes “solutions where everyone seemed to win” [p. 156]. What does this passage reveal about Bruno’s motivations and overriding concerns? Is he able to find “solutions where everyone seemed to win” in The Devil’s Cave?

11. In what ways does Bruno’s army training help him in the final, explosive encounter in the Devil’s Cave? Why does he fight so hard to save the count’s life?

12. Bruno doesn’t rely on DNA and other forms of forensic evidence to solve crimes, as so many modern police forces and detectives do. What does he rely upon instead?

13. The criminals in The Devil’s Cave are motivated by the age-old desires for money and power, but in what ways is the novel a reflection of our own unique historical moment? What role do real estate scams, shady investment firms, pornography, tourism, and media manipulation play in the novel?

14. A character like the Red Countess, an aristocratic Communist who was a courier in the French Resistance, could exist only in France. In what other ways is The Devil’s Cave a distinctly French novel? How does it differ from popular American or Swedish mysteries?

15. Martin Walker is also a journalist who writes a weekly column, “Walker’s World,” on international affairs. In what ways is The Devil’s Cave not only a highly enjoyable detective novel but also a serious commentary on our time?

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