Murder on Brittany Shores (Inspector Dupin, #2)

Murder on Brittany ShoresMurder on Brittany Shores
by Jean-Luc Bannalec
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250112439
Series: Brittany Mystery #2
Publication Date: November 28, 2017
Pages: 380
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books

Ten miles off the coast of Brittany lie the fabled Glénan Islands. Boasting sparkling white sands and crystal-clear waters, they seem perfectly idyllic, until one day in May, three bodies wash up on shore. At first glance the deaths appear accidental, but as the identities of the victims come to light, Commissaire Dupin is pulled back into action for a case of what seems to be cold-blooded murder.

Ever viewed as an outsider in a region full of myths and traditions, Dupin finds himself drawn deep into the history of the land. To get to the bottom of the case, he must tangle with treasure hunters, militant marine biologists, and dangerous divers. The investigation leads him further into the perilous, beautiful world of Glénan, as he discovers that there's more to the picturesque islands than meets the eye.


Another solidly told story and an excellently plotted mystery.  I’m especially loving the plots, and where the first book’s mystery shined in clever suspense, this one shines in sheer complexity and tragedy.

Murder on Brittany Shores takes place on an archipelago off the coast, on the Glénan Islands.  Very remote, and at one point, very And Then There Were None vibes.  Bannalec either has his tongue firmly in cheek, or he is a born-again convert to all things Breton, as he uses every opportunity to gush about the superiority of all things Breton, repeatedly using phrases like the best in the world, and comparing the Glénan Islands to the Caribbean, having them come out at least as equals in some respects and, of course, Glénan superior in the most important bits.  This is sometimes too obvious and over-bearing, but it’s probably only wasting about 5% of the story overall, so can be forgiven, mostly.  There was one spot I rolled my eyes and skimmed.

I like Dupin – he’s the opposite of his namesake; abrupt, concise and not prone to long speeches, or even medium sized sentences.  Terse.  Sometimes crabby, and I particularly enjoy the way he’s constantly avoiding phone calls with his superiors, like a sneaky kid trying to avoid hearing the call to come inside and bathe.

I thoroughly enjoyed both the books I’ve read so far, but I don’t feel like I need to rush out to read the next one – it will likely be on the a future library list sooner rather than later, when I feel the need to be reminded about how great Brittany is.  😉

Death in Brittany (Brittany Mystery, #1)

Death in BrittanyDeath in Brittany
by Jean-Luc Bannalec
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250088437
Series: Brittany Mystery #1
Publication Date: May 31, 2016
Pages: 318
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books

Commissaire Georges Dupin, a cantankerous, Parisian-born caffeine junkie recently relocated from the glamour of Paris to the remote (if picturesque) Breton coast, is dragged from his morning croissant and coffee to the scene of a curious murder. The local village of Pont-Aven—a sleepy community by the sea where everyone knows one other and nothing much seems to happen—is in shock. The legendary ninety-one-year-old hotelier Pierre-Louis Pennec, owner of the Central Hotel, has been found dead.

A picture-perfect seaside village that played host to Gaugin in the nineteenth century, Pont-Aven is at the height of its tourist season and is immediately thrown into uproar. As Dupin delves into the lives of the victim and the suspects, he uncovers a web of secrecy and silence that belies the village's quaint image.


 

I’m pretty sure I have one of the books in this series floating around a TBR pile somewhere, but I couldn’t remember which one, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t the first one, so I checked it out from the library.  If I do have one of the series (and I didn’t give it away) it’s one that I’ve picked up and put right back down again for ages, but the titles always appeal to me, so I made myself read this one.

It was pretty good!  Not great, but entertaining, and a pretty solid mystery.  The writing style (3rd person) reminds me a little of the Provence mystery series written by M.L. Longworth, although I suspect that’s more just the power of suggestion (one series set in Provence, the other in Brittany) than any actual resemblance.  But I’d class these as traditional mysteries, not cozy; they’re all about the mystery plots and very little about the characters, although the descriptions of the countryside were a little eye glazing.

The main character of the book is an obvious tip of the hat to Poe, as his name is Dupin.  To my everlasting relief, however, he is as unlike his classic namesake as can be.  There’s no expounding, or soapbox monologues; the mystery plot spans 4 days and every one of them is non-stop showing and almost no telling.  A Gaugin masterpiece is at the centre of the murder plot, and mysteries about art are catnip for me, so when it felt slow going, the art kept me reading.  I say slow going, but that’s not really accurate; the book isn’t divided into chapters, but the 4 days of the investigation, and if you’re a stop-at-the-end-of-a-chapter reader like I am, discovering the first ‘chapter’ is 97 pages long makes it feel like it’s taking forever.  Once I figured that out, I adjusted my habits and the book and I got along much better.

I’m definitely interested in the rest of the series.  I need to figure out if I do, indeed, have a book and which one it is, and whether or not my library has the entire series or is going to torture me with random entries.  No matter though, I definitely have a new series to look forward to.

A Bookshop in Algiers

A Bookshop in AlgiersA Bookshop in Algiers
by Kaouther Adimi
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781788164696
Publication Date: June 1, 2020
Pages: 146
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

A Bookshop in Algiers celebrates quixotic devotion and the love of books in the person of Edmond Charlot, who at the age of twenty founded Les Vraies Richesses (Our True Wealth), the famous Algerian bookstore/publishing house/lending library. He more than fulfilled its motto 'by the young, for the young', discovering the twenty-four-year-old Albert Camus in 1937. His entire archive was twice destroyed by the French colonial forces, but despite financial difficulties and the vicissitudes of wars and revolutions, Charlot carried forward Les Vraies Richesses as a cultural hub of Algiers.

A Bookshop in Algiers interweaves Charlot's story with that of another twenty-year-old, Ryad, who is dispatched to the old shop in 2017 to empty it of books and repaint it. Ryad's no booklover, but old Abdallah, the bookshop's self-appointed, nearly illiterate guardian, opens the young man's mind.

Cutting brilliantly from Charlot to Ryad, from the 1930s to current times, from WWII to the bloody 1961 Free Algeria demonstrations in Paris, Adimi delicately packs a monumental history of intense political drama into her swift and poignant novel. But most of all, it's a hymn to the book and to the love of books.


 

Apparently I was in the mood to challenge myself when I went to the library.  I’ve moved now from South Africa to North, to Algeria, and again find myself waffling between 4. and 4.5 stars.

Translated from the French, the writing via translation is beautiful, or, at least, beautifully engaging.  The story is divided into flashbacks in the form of journal entries, written by the Edmund Charlot, the original owner of the Les Vraies Richesses (the Bookstore at the center of the story), a present-day timeline told in the third person, and a third that I don’t know how to describe; something akin to a transitional voice-over; NPR calls it a communal third person.

Over the course of this small book, the reader travels with Algeria and the bookstore through pre-war French colonialism, WWII, and Algeria’s war for independence, coming out into the present day in a city that feels like it’s in stasis (although there are early references to the economy suffering because Algeria’s oil reserves have dried up), and the people are holding their breath, waiting to see what happens next. Edmund Charlot comes across and a wonderful man; kind, generous, and someone who followed a vocation rather than a profession, and  while I worried about his naiveté at the start of his career, and felt for him when things were so impossible in post-war Paris, I mourned with him at the senseless destruction that ultimately took him out of Algeria.

I ended up going with 4 stars because the ending did my head in.  I really feel like I got a taste of Algiers, and I definitely felt Abdallah’s pain as the bookstore was slowly dismantled with so little feeling by the young intern, Ryad, sent to “throw everything away”.  But the end … the end left me flipping pages and saying “what the hell?” to myself.  I really want to be able to ask the author to explain herself.  What was her motivation with this ending?  Or perhaps I missed some nuance, some metaphor; perhaps I took then ending to literally.  Either way, it was abrupt.

In spite of this, the book is the kind that will stay with me for some time to come, and I’ll “see” it in my memory as if it was something I experienced, rather than just read.  I just have to forget about that ending.

Extraordinary Insects

Format: Paperback
Extraordinary InsectsExtraordinary Insects
by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780008316372
Publication Date: April 2, 2020
Pages: 294
Genre: Non-fiction, Science
Publisher: Mudlark

A Sunday TimesNature Book of the Year 2019

A journey into the weird, wonderful and truly astonishing lives of the small but mighty creatures we can't live without.

Insects influence our ecosystem like a ripple effect on water. They arrived when life first moved to dry land, they preceded - and survived - the dinosaurs, they outnumber the grains of sand on all the world's beaches, and they will be here long after us.

Working quietly but tirelessly, they give us food, uphold our ecosystems, can heal our wounds and even digest plastic. They could also provide us with new solutions to the antibiotics crisis, assist in disaster zones and inspire airforce engineers with their flying techniques.

But their private lives are also full of fun, intrigue and wonder. Here, we will discover life and death, drama and dreams, all on a millimetric scale. Like it or not, Earth is the planet of insects, and this is their extraordinary story.


Either something was lost in translation, or this book is a much better fit for middle grade readers.  Given the excellent english of absolutely everybody I’ve ever met from Norway (and I worked for a Norwegian company for years), I’m going with this is a great Middle grade read.

Extraordinary Insects is a brief introduction to most of the broad families of Insects, written by an enthusiastic scientist who obviously loves her work.  It’s a fun book, engagingly written, but at a level that would appeal to strong readers in the, say, 10-13 year old range.  That’s not an insult to this book in the slightest, but those who are looking for a deeper overview of the insect world and their importance on Earth (life as we know it can’t exist without insects, but nothing but the rats and cockroaches would even notice our absence), might find this book a little frustrating for its lack of depth, and its very enthusiastic tone.  It’s a good book, but I kept thinking it would be a better fit for my niece (who just turned 11).

A great book for a budding young insect enthusiast or for anyone who has avoided ‘bugs’ but would like to dip a toe into learning more about them.

Stick Together (Awkward Squad, #2)

Stick TogetherStick Together
by Sam Gordon, Sophie Hénaff
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781635060157
Series: Awkward Squad #2
Publication Date: April 2, 2019
Pages: 299
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: MacLehose Press

I can’t remember how I discovered the first book in this series, The Awkward Squad, but I thoroughly enjoyed it; it felt fresh and it amused me, and I chalked up any small irritations to the translation from the French.

This second book was much the same, although there were more straight-up translation issues this time; errors that should have been caught in editing – like saying the ‘France people’ instead of the ‘French People’ in one spot.  And a few things were just cultural references I didn’t understand, not being French myself.  Glossing over them didn’t affect my understanding of the plot or the mystery, though undoubtedly I missed a layer of enjoyment.

The series focuses on a department of the police judiciaire, which was occasionally referred to as PJs, which made me giggle more than it should have.  This department was created as a repository for all the misfits that couldn’t be fired; they were established in an old office building offsite with all the cold case files that have never been solved, and then left to fend for themselves.

I didn’t expect this to work as well as it does, but I enjoy reading about the individual misfits and how their odd contributions further the pursuit of criminals and solve cases.  It’s far-fetched, sure, but it never feels silly or slapstick, somehow.

It’s not perfect, but it’s highly enjoyable, and I sincerely hope the author continues to write more in the series, and that they continue to be translated into English.