Bruno’s Challenge & Other Dordogne Tales (Bruno, Chief of Police 14.5), by Martin Walker

Bruno’s Challenge & Other Dordogne Tales by Martin Walker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bruno’s Challenge & Other Dordogne Tales” consists of 14 short stories featuring rural French cop Bruno who has already “starred” in 14 previous books.
The full-size novels (that I prefer) went on a downward spiral around book 10 and mostly picked up at book 14. So I was curious to see how this short story collection would hold up.
This was especially true because only six of the collected stories are actually new – the other eight have previously been published.

The eponymous “Bruno’s Challenge” is one of those new stories and, sadly, a prime example of all that was wrong with the latest Bruno novels: Endless recipe descriptions, hardly any kind of story. 1 star.

Birthday Lunch” is an older story that I had already read: Another short story from the “Bruno universe”. Unfortunately, like the later novels, this one didn’t have any appeal for me. A large part of it is basically simply a narrated recipe:

He beat the yolks and eggs together with a hundred fifty grams of sugar until they were creamy.

That really doesn’t float my boat, sorry. The rest is just plain boring. Moving on. 1 star.

Another republished story is “The Chocolate War”: This one deals with the market again and the ensuing eponymous “Chocolate War” that ends in a typical Bruno way. This is a very short read but it’s a nice one at least. 3 stars.

Another new one is “The Lost Boy” which is actually a pretty nice story. A “classic” Bruno who rescues not only the lost boy but also his father and their holidays. 4 stars.

The new (at least I think it’s new) “A Question of Chabrol” is extremely short as well as extremely weak and boring. It explores the etymology of the word “chabrol” and the associated custom. A typical Walker showing off his historical knowledge. No thanks, 1 star.

Republished (not entirely sure here but I think I came across it before) “The Green Army” is ok‘ish at best. It features environmental crimes but still downplays ecological issues and is generally rather disappointing. 2 stars.

Dangerous Vacation” (new) is yet another ok’ish story but the very moralist ending is highly annoying. Philippe did nothing wrong (apart from misjudging his true love interest). Two adults having consensual fun – albeit with different expectations. 2 stars.

Another “oldie” but, thankfully, a “goldie” (sorry!): “A Market Tale” is a nice and typical Bruno short story. It’s a good sample for the early Bruno novels since it represents everything that’s good about the series: Bruno is so wonderfully likeable, friendly and empathic. The market obviously plays as important a role as in many of the novels. There’s a small conflict but Bruno congenially resolves it. I felt right at home with this short story. 5 stars.

Fifty Million Bubbles” is another new story about a wine contest and a related minor crime. Another good one. Minor crime, nice Bruno, some interesting but thankfully brief quick dips into history. 4 stars.

I also already had the misfortune to read “Oystercatcher” before: This completely forgettable short story has Bruno in it but he’s not even near his beloved Perigord. He’s out to catch oyster thieves and for some bizarre reason Isabelle actively engages in this tiniest possible case as well. Just skip this. I only read it for completeness’ sake. 1 star because there are words in this.

Mère Noël”, newly written, is another good one in which Bruno himself is slyly on the fine line between legality and a grey zone. 4 stars.

Boeuf Neanderthal” is a republished boring lesson on prehistoric food combined with cooking. Why? Because Bruno’s friend, the mayor of St. Denis, has become president of SHAP, the “Société Historique et Archéologique du Périgord” and asks Bruno to prepare a prehistoric dinner. Who wants to read such crap? 1 star.

The Collaborator” is an interesting history lesson on collaboration and the Vichy regime. Not sure I agree with all the conclusions presented here but it’s not too bad a story so: 3 stars.

Le Père Noël” (another old one) is yet another nice typical Bruno in which the latter goes on a “manhunt” – in typical Bruno manner, though. It has a lot of Christmas “vibes” and many of Bruno’s friends (old and new) in it, it has another small crime and made me smile. Since all’s well that ends well, this garners 5 stars.

All in all, I got what I expected with this short story collection – which was not much, I have to admit. Only six new stories and eight old ones, their quality highly mixed…
Arithmetically, we’re at an average overall rating of 2.6 which, sadly, feels about right. Generously rounding that up: Three stars out of five.

Ceterum censeo Putin esse delendam

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