Bond, Michael - 'Monsieur Pamplemousse Afloat'
Opening the champagne, Monsieur Pamplemousse poured himself a glass and took a long mouthful. It tasted crisp, clean and refreshing. There were biscuity overtones; an ideal aperitif wine. Recording the fact in his notebook, he refilled the glass, then lay back, allowing his mind to float freely as he adjusted to his new surroundings.
Monsieur Pamplemousse drives down Boulevard Hausmann on the way to work and is distracted by the sight of a one-legged Father Christmas hopping swiftly along the pavement. Too late he realises that the lorry in front is braking. As his own car inexorably hits the lorry and its windscreen shatters, the following vehicle canons into the rear, propelling Monsieur Pamplemousse's travelling companion, the bloodhound Pommes Frites, into his lap. To his shocked surprise the automobile in question turns out to be that of his employer as the window of his expensive motorcar glides down and the Director of the prestigious "Le Guide" trusts that Pamplemousse will not be late for work. Expressing sympathy, he makes it clear that his secretary will arrange for the Pamplemousse 2CV to be towed to a repairs garage and, showing particular concern for Pommes Frites, asks them to call into his office upon their arrival at Le Guide. There Pommes Frites is treated with great hospitality as the Director eventually broaches the subject of a much needed holiday for the pair of them. He has taken the liberty of booking a canal cruise through Burgundy, courtesy of Le Guide of course. It so happens that an aunt of the Director's wife runs a vineyard there. Pamplemousse could look upon the trip as a chance to review its "waterborne cuisine" and it may provide some exercise for Pommes Frites - for whom the Director has great plans. And so, closeted in the comfort of the tourist barge, Pamplemousse makes acquaintance with his fellow travellers whilst Pommes Frites trots along the towpath taking his usual subtle but acute interest in his surroundings. However, the pair soon find themselves caught up in a cascade of mishaps and intrigue, including an incident at the aunt's Burgundian château that results in a dead parrot.
This light-hearted book is one of Michael Bond's comic detective series featuring the retired Sûreté detective Monsieur Pamplemousse who travels the length and breadth of France as an inspector of fine cuisine and wines for the prestigious Le Guide in the company of another retired police operative, the bloodhound Pommes Frites. First published in the 1980s the series has recently been republished in paperback by Allison & Busby.
In MONSIEUR PAMPLEMOUSSE AFLOAT the pair find themselves vacationing on a canal barge in the wine region of Burgundy. Pamplemousse becomes involved, in more than one sense of the word, with one or two of his fellow female passengers and Pommes Frites gets himself into a tight spot. Fans of the series should enjoy this book. A fairly continuous succession of misunderstandings and slip-ups provides much opportunity for farce and fortuitous detection; several of the characters are clearly developed with this in mind, a Marilyn Monroe-alike and her shady Sydney Greenstreet-alike husband for instance. However the comedy doesn't quite work for me, perhaps I am just a hard-boiled, wise-cracking kind of girl when it comes to criminal laughter. I would be happy to see the slapstick filmed - Jacques Tati or Peter Sellers as Pamplemousse - but found that the act of reading Bond's detailed descriptions of the incidents actually slowed down the pace of the humour. If I can quibble further it seemed as though sometimes the requirements for comedy superseded the plot logic and I found this confusing. In fact I tended to lose sight of the crime let alone "whodunnit". However Michael Bond's perception of Pamplemousse as a detective explains this element of farce when Bond says in an interview that he wanted a character who "solved his crimes largely by accident rather than design". This is definitely Monsieur Pamplemousse's forte. I suspect that the truly detecting detective in the books is the inscrutable Pommes Frites and certainly the deep companionship and trust between the very human Pamplemousse and his all-seeing, all-knowing bloodhound is clearly established. MONSIEUR PAMPLEMOUSSE AFLOAT is full of detailed descriptions of architecture, landscape and food, as befits his lead character’s gourmet occupation. Indeed some aspects of the book form an elegy to changing times for French gastronomy and wine-growing. If you think this sounds like the kind of light-hearted, travelling gourmet crime-caper for you then you should find this particular title in the series an enjoyable read.
Lynn Harvey, England