Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Crime Fraiche by Alexander Campion

Despite the amount of reading which I do, I'm not really a literary sort, familiar with the classics and lesser works of the pantheon of Western Lit, so I completely missed the homage to Madame Bovary in the story until it was revealed by Campion about two thirds of the way through the story. Perhaps those of you who are more attuned to such things will catch it on first sight.

So, now that we've experienced crime and punishment along with gastronomic excess in the heart of Paris, Campion takes us out to the countryside, for more rustic fare. Capucine and Alexandre journey to chateau Maulevrier to visit her favorite uncle Aymerie (Jacques' father) at his country estate. It's the heart of the hunting season when they arrive, and their visit falls shortly after a tragic shooting accident, when the manager of a neighbor's beef cattle ranch is killed on a partridge hunt. Though Alexandre is at first not comfortable outside the city, he soon begins to act like a true country squire, strutting about with his walking stick with a flask of spirits concealed in its knob, and hunting partridges and rabbits with the rest of the gentry.

When that death is followed rapidly by several other shootings, Capucine is convinced by Oncle Aymerie that she must bring her Police Judicaire skills to bear and find the guilty parties, thought the local gendarmes have dismissed the deaths as merely the typical toll of the sport of the local nobles and peasantry. At the same time, Capucine's brigade of investigators in Paris are faced with capturing a beautiful thief, dubbed a modern day Robin Hood by the press, who steals from rich artists after gaining their sympathies by fainting of hunger in a public place.

We get to experience simpler dishes at country inns, such as "a tangy dish of marinated herrings cooked with shallots, coriander leaves, herbes de Provence (Jacques Pepin mentioned these on his show last night) , and bay leaves, served on a bed of tiny, round ratte potatoes sautéed in the herrings' oily marinade" or "a carpaccio of raw beef sliced so thin it was translucent, seasoned only with salt, pepper, a trickle of excellent olive oil, and a few drops of lemon juice". Those darned French! It all just sounds too good.

Capucine learns a few things about navigating the political landscape of both the country and the city when she reaps the negative consequences of pulling a few (family) strings to go over the head of the local police and get herself assigned to the case. Some of the old gendarmes turn out to be sharper than you'd expect. It all boils down to the world's oldest motives, sex and money, in the end, but the meandering nature of the investigation gives us plenty of time to savor the hunt - literal and metaphorical.

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