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Jean-Luc Bannalec – Death in Brittany

June 30, 2016

Bannalec, Jean-Luc - Death in Brittany - 40012. Death in Brittany by Jean-Luc Bannalec (2012)
Commissaire Dupin, Book 1

Length: 318 pages
Genre: Mystery

Started: 01 March 2016
Finished: 03 March 2016

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? A pick for one of my book clubs.

A murdered old man
might lead to an important
art discovery.

Summary: Commissaire Georges Dupin is a police detective who moved to Brittany from Paris several years ago but is still widely regarded as an outsider by the local Bretons. He is called upon to investigate the murder of a 90-year-old hotel owner with no known enemies, in a small town that was known for being home to several important post-impressionist painters at the turn of the century, notably Paul Gauguin, who may have left behind a previously-unknown painting as a gift for his patron, the victim’s grandmother.

Review: Murder mysteries aren’t necessarily my genre of choice, but I thought this one was pretty interesting, and I enjoyed the connection to the art world. Art history, forgery, discovery, etc. are all things that I’ve found interesting themes in other books I’ve read (The Lost Painting and The Forgery of Venus come to mind, although The Swan Thieves and The Goldfinch are notable exceptions), so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that connection in what I thought was a more standard mystery novel. The mystery itself was fairly well done, with a decent number of red herrings, although I figured out whodunnit fairly early on (although not exactly how, as is usual for me – I can pick up on author’s clues about personality and motive much better than I can reconstruct crime scene details, apparently.) However, this book ultimately wasn’t a success for me, and that was largely due to the writing and/or the translation. I actually think its both; the translation felt like a rushed job by someone who wasn’t familiar with idiomatic English, so there were places that got fairly awkward to read, if never actually unintelligible. But I don’t think the translation is entirely to blame; the characterization of the main character, who I believe stars in a whole series of novels, was lackluster at best. Personality quirks (like being a caffeine addict) are not the same thing as character building, and this book has a heavy hand with the former and unfortunately not much of the latter. So, while I was interested enough to keep reading to find out the solution to the mystery, I didn’t really care about the characters, and wasn’t rooting for the detective as much as I think I probably should have been. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: There’s no shortage of detective mystery novels out there, and while this one was pretty good on the mystery, it wasn’t the strongest on the detective, if that’s your taste. A light and fast enough read, this would be good for a vacation read, although I don’t think it’s one that’s going to stick with me very long.

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First Line: The seventh of July was a magnificent summer’s day, one of those majestic Atlantic days that always lifted Commissaire Dupin’s spirits.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 49: “There was the ever enchanting landscape with its traces of the mysterious eras of menhirs and dolmens, hints of the land of the druids, great legends and epics.” – A prehistoric monument consisting of a single large standing stone, found especially in the British Isles and northern France; a Neolithic tomb consisting of two or more upright stones with a capstone, believed to have been buried in earth except for a central opening.
  • p. 238: ““An insignificant painter from the artists’ colony, from Lille, less gifted, a syncretist.”” – Reconciliation or fusion of differing systems of belief, as in philosophy or religion, especially when success is partial or the result is heterogeneous.
  • p. 317: “Celtic music, costume competitions, tombolas and the crowning of the queen of the festival.” – a type of lottery, esp at a fête, in which tickets are drawn from a revolving drum.

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