But just recently I came across this series, written by Martin Walker and set in the Dordogne. And actually, these books are just the thing for a bit of mid-winter escapism, despite the crime.
The hero - and what a hero he is - is Bruno Courreges. (And I'm sorry that doesn't have the appropriate accents; I don't know how to do them in Blogger, and if anyone does, please tell me!) Bruno is the Chief of Police in a small town in the Perigord (near all those painted caves) called St Denis. He works closely with the Mayor to ensure the well-being of all the town's inhabitants, and he's so devoted to his job and his town that he turns down frequent invitations to be promoted to a job in Paris working for the rather shadowy Brigadier, who works for a mysterious intelligence agency and has links to the highest levels of government. Moving to Paris would also mean that he could be with Isabelle, probably the truest of his several loves, who also works for the Brigadier - but he simply can't tear himself away from St Denis.
|The first book in the series.|
And who could blame him? It's the most enchanting place, peopled with an array of colourful characters who all adore him - unsurprisingly, as he rescues them from dire fates on a regular basis, teaches their children tennis and rugby, dresses up as Father Christmas, and cooks them delicious feasts. He doesn't earn very much money, but this doesn't bother him: with the help of his friends he has built a charming house; he has an adorable dog with which he goes hunting for game, all of which he eats (this is the Perigord, after all: no country for vegetarians); he grows salad, vegetables and fruit in his garden; and he gets everything else - wine, cheese, cream, croissants - from friends.
He's caring, tender and intelligent, and he has a strong set of values. Unlike many literary detectives, he doesn't become ground down by the evil he encounters, and there is never any danger that he will cross the line; his moral compass is firmly set.
It's escapism, but into a world which apparently does actually exist: the author, Martin Walker, has a house in the Dordogne himself, and many of the characters are inspired by people he knows. And, as with Montalbano and Sicily, or Commissario Brunetti and Venice, or Dr Siri and Laos, you learn a great deal about the country in which the detective operates: how its legal system works, its recent history, the problems it faces. So in the Bruno novels I've read recently, there's been an exploration of the legacy of the French involvement in Vietnam, an overview of the wine trade, a look at the conflict between traditional hunters and their opponents, and an examination as to how the history of resistance and occupation is remembered - or sometimes stifled.
And beside all that, there's the food. Oh, the food...
'Bruno's summer soup was quickly made. He chopped two green peppers, peeled and sliced a cucumber and put them all into the blender with two cloves of garlic, two glasses of wine and half a glass of olive oil. He pored boiling water over four tomatoes to loosen their skins, peeled them and squeezed oyt the pips and added the tomato flesh to the blender...' And he's already got some delicious home-made bread on the go - and this isn't even in his own house!
What a guy. And of course he's also exceedingly good at solving crimes. Usually several at a time.