Magnan, Pierre - 'Death in the Truffle Wood' (translated by Patricia Clancy)
DEATH IN THE TRUFFLE WOOD was published in French in 1978 and arrived in English in 2005. It's one in the series of Commissaire Laviolette novels and is at least the second one as an earlier book is referenced in the footnotes.
DEATH IN THE TRUFFLE WOOD is in the same bizarre but humorous vein as Fred Vargas's SEEKING WHOM HE MAY DEVOUR, full of quirky characters, not least Roseline the truffle hunting pig who plays an important role in the detection.
Like other Magnan novels that have been translated into English, DEATH IN THE TRUFFLE WOOD is set in Provence. The village of Banon appears to be a destination for hippies but when they begin to disappear from their commune, Laviolette is sent to investigate.
When a snowstorm traps a wedding party in a hotel in the village, extra food is required, however a trip to the outside freezer reveals a body…
The hotel's landlady is shocked about the body but perhaps for the wrong reason:
"Oh Paul! It can't be! Here! On a Sunday! A body! In the freezer!" she exclaimed, her voice rising steadily in C major.
She had just realised that the freezer would have to be replaced.
Then Roseline's nose helps out and she leads the police to a cache of more bodies. Laviolette has assistance from forensics but he appears disappointed that he needs it:
"And what about us?" the three forensic men from Criminal Records said in a chorus.
"Ah, you! It’s true. I am inclined to forget you…"
But there you are, nothing could be done about it. Once again, they were the ones in the force who'd hit the jackpot…the science boys. He waited until Viaud, Guyot and Leprince had gone out of the room before giving his instructions to the three musketeers.
This is an absolute delight to read. Atmospheric, down to earth, funny and combined with an intriguing whodunit. Though it was written nearly 30 years ago, perhaps due to a modern and skilful translation by Patricia Clancy, the book doesn't feel dated apart from the occasional model of car.
I'm looking forward to catching up with Laviolette in THE MESSENGERS OF DEATH.
Karen Meek, England
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.