"Roll over Maigret. Commissaire Dupin has arrived." M.C. Beaton on Death in Brittany
"Very satisfying…along the lines of Martin Walker’s novels set in Dordogne, or M.L. Longworth’s Aix-en-Provence mysteries." Booklist on Murder on Brittany Shores
The Missing Corpse is internationally bestselling author, Jean-Luc Bannalec’s fourth novel in the Commissaire Dupin series. It’s picturesque, suspenseful, and the next best thing to a trip to Brittany.
Along the picturesque Belon River, home of the world famous oyster beds, between steep cliffs, ominous forests and the Atlantic Ocean, a stubborn elderly film actress discovers a corpse. By the time Commissaire Dupin arrives at the scene, the body has disappeared. A little while later, he receives a phone call from the mystical hills of Monts d'Arree, where legends of fairies and the devil abound: another unidentified body has turned up. Dupin quickly realizes this may be his most difficult and confounding case yet, with links to celtic myths, a sand theft operation, and mysterious ancient druid cults.
About the Author
International bestselling author JEAN-LUC BANNALEC divides his time between Germany and coastal Brittany, France. He is also the author of Death in Brittany, Murder on Brittany Shores, and The Fleur de Sel Murders.
Read an Excerpt
The First Day
He was the biggest of the lot. He gave a loud cry. Brisk. Monosyllabic. His head craned arrogantly upward. The vigorous cry was to a buddy who peeped out from behind a rocky ledge and was now rushing over. It was cold, around zero degrees, and the air smelled of damp ice.
Commissaire Georges Dupin from the Commissariat de Police Concarneau was standing directly in front of him, not unimpressed. In spite of the fuss he was making, the figure opposite him really was imposing, and he was at least a meter tall.
A black head, piercing brown eyes, a black throat. Bright yellowish-orange patches on the back of his head. A long, elegant bill, dark on the top, a deep orange on the bottom. His chest a garish yellowish orange with radiant white below; his back shimmering from nape to tail, a silvery slate gray. Like the flippers. His feet and legs, on the other hand, were also jet black. The king penguin was an exquisite spectacle: royal.
By this point, his buddy, who was a little shorter than him, had joined him. Dupin knew that individual penguins could reliably recognize each other by their voices.
Suddenly they both began to cry out in a curt, clipped way. Threatening cries. Unmistakable. For a moment Dupin had thought the cries were meant for him. But he was mistaken. Three of his favorite penguins were standing on the other side of the ledge in the snow-covered Arctic pavilion: gentoo penguins who, along with a group of southern rockhopper penguins, made up the largest penguin colony in Europe here in the Océanopolis in Brest. It was why Dupin, the penguin lover, made a detour here every few months, whenever he was near Brest. Today he was with Henri, who had become his best friend in his "new hometown," a fellow ex-Parisian who had found his great love and happiness at the End of the World more than two decades before. "Everything begins at the End of the World," was what people said: "Tout commence au Finistère." One of the Breton sayings that got straight to the heart of things: this was what people thought and felt here.
Commissaire Dupin was on his way to a police training seminar in Brest, which unfortunately was part of his "promotion," and on top of everything else, he still didn't know what exactly the promotion meant. Officially speaking, he was no longer the chief commissaire but the "supervising commissaire," although as far back as anyone could remember, there had only been one commissaire in the Commissariat de Police Concarneau anyway. A very modest commissariat, yet it was the only one in France that, according to a never-checked claim, had a panoramic view of the sea. And also of the old town in the large harbor with its enormous fortress walls. A very modest commissariat, but one whose "regional jurisdiction" had expanded bit by bit in recent years — with every retirement of a commissaire in the neighboring districts and the serious financial difficulties in the public budget. Dupin's promotion had almost coincided with his fifth anniversary of working in Brittany. During the "ceremonial" phone call, the prefect had murmured something about "not bad" and that it was "a reasonably good job" that Dupin was "putting in." That one "could certainly talk about some respectable joint investigative successes, in fact." On the first of March five years earlier, Dupin had reported for his first day at work in Brittany following his unceremonious "transfer" from the metropolis — increasingly outlandish tales were developing around the reasons for this transfer.
The topic of the current training course — it had been assigned to him personally as a "bonus" by the prefecture — was "Conducting Systematic and Systemic Conversations in Investigative Situations." Based on the latest results from academic psychological research, of course. Dupin was downright notorious for his unconventional, undoubtedly highly unpsychological conversations during investigations. They were anything but "systematic," or at least not in the usual sense.
But taking part in the course was obligatory and the promotion came with a not very generous but still attractive pay raise. So it was blackmail. This was why Dupin wouldn't have had any problem skipping the introductory meeting today, if only it hadn't fit so nicely with Henri's plans. He had to go to a meeting of restaurateurs near Brest.
The two kings were now waddling toward the three gentoos, at which the gentoos appeared to give each other signals with their flippers. They started to move a moment later and dived into the pool in one daring leap. At breakneck speed, doing crazy turns, but most importantly in a provocatively good mood, they scattered, each of them going in their own direction, before abruptly turning around, darting boldly just past each other, and then disappearing into the waterways to other pools. The little show had lasted less than five seconds. As soon as the birds who looked so clumsy on land — and who had lost their ability to fly over the course of their evolution — were in their element, they turned into by far the most skillful and swift buoyant bodies in the aquatic world. They could get up to speeds of forty kilometers an hour, Dupin knew, streamlined to perfection. They could dive for up to twenty-two minutes on a single breath, reaching up to five hundred meters deep. Dupin read everything there was to read about penguins, and he had these facts and figures at his fingertips. He was particularly impressed by the penguins' sense of direction: they used keen eyes and unrivaled mnemonics to memorize the details of an area many kilometers square under the ice sheet and on the seabed. At any given moment, they knew the location of their nearest hole to the surface — vital to their survival. As it was for a commissaire too, in a way. Just like the ability to maintain a constant body temperature of 30 degrees Celsius at a perceived temperature of a hellish minus 180, during howling storms, weeks of darkness, and without food, a thought that horrified Dupin.
Henri and Dupin had been trying unsuccessfully to keep their eyes fixed on the three gentoo penguins. They were just about to turn away when the three of them shot out of the water behind the two king penguins in one almighty leap. A moment later they were standing sure-footed on the icy ledge — like an operation out of a film. So the gentoo penguins' scattering had been far from random — they had been planning an ingenious operation. Penguins were unrivaled for teamwork.
The two king penguins looked visibly annoyed. For a moment, it seemed as though they were contemplating some aggression: they drew themselves up to their full heights, their bodies ostentatiously tense. The larger one let out a few harsh cries as they did so. But then, just as suddenly, the kings slipped into the water without any fuss, in an almost lazy way, then looked up again and finally swam away.
The ledge where the feedings took place now belonged to the three gentoo penguins.
"They know how it's done!" Dupin said, and smiled to himself.
"In the end, cleverness is strength." Henri laughed.
The penguin colony in Brittany was the largest in Europe, but there was something else much more spectacular than that: these were French penguins. They came from official French territory, the Îles Crozet, subantarctic islands. And, even more crucially: these islands were, in fact, a Breton archipelago! Due to being discovered by the naval officer Julien-Marie Crozet in the eighteenth century. He came from Morbihan, near the famous gulf. A Breton! These penguins — they were Bretons. Which also meant there was an authentically antarctic Brittany! It might sound odd to Brittany-beginners — but Dupin had long since stopped being surprised. In recent years he had got to know the South Pacific Brittany, the Caribbean one, the Mediterranean one, and even the Australian Brittany. "There's no such thing as La Bretagne! There are many Brittanies!" was one of his assistant Nolwenn's basic philosophies.
"Did you know that penguins can catapult themselves up to two meters out of the water using explosive acceleration techniques? Weapons engineers have copied it for firing torpedoes and —" Dupin's raptures were interrupted by the high-pitched, monotonous beeping of his mobile. He fished it out reluctantly. Nolwenn.
"This is completely unacceptable, Monsieur le Commissaire! This will not do!"
It was serious. That much was clear. Even though Dupin had rarely seen it in all these years: his assistant — all-around wonder woman and generally calm and composed in even the diciest of situations — was very agitated. She took a deep breath. "The last lighthouse keeper in France is going to leave his lighthouse in a few days! Then they'll all be controlled by computer. And they won't be called phares anymore, they'll be DirmNAMO!"
"Nolwenn, I —"
"An entire profession is disappearing. Over and done with. There will be no more lighthouse keepers! Jean-Paul Eymond and Serge Andron have lived in the lighthouse for thirty-five years, at a height of sixty-seven and a half meters, enduring the harshest storms with waves where the foam pounded over the dome so that all you could do was pray. How many times did they repair the lighthouse in storms like that and risk their lives to save others! Will the computer be repairing its own faulty cables in heavy storms soon? The smashed glass?" She took another breath and continued. "The lighthouse keepers — they are an important historical figure, Monsieur le Commissaire! As I say: this is completely unacceptable!"
As desperately sad as this news indeed seemed, Dupin wasn't sure what Nolwenn actually expected him to do. That he intervene as a policeman? Arrest someone?
"A murder? Has something happened?" Henri spoke in a hushed voice, making an effort to be discreet, but still noticeably curious. Dupin's face had obviously reflected something of Nolwenn's emotional state or even just shown his bafflement. He played it down quickly with a soothing gesture.
"Are you already in the seminar center, Monsieur le Commissaire?" Nolwenn's voice had completely changed from one second to the next. Thoroughly unsentimental now, purely matter-of-fact. Dupin was used to this. The words "seminar center" conjured up images in his mind of flower-patterned plastic thermoses on brownish Formica tables, with dreadful, lukewarm water for coffee brewed hours before. He'd been under strict medical orders since last week to avoid coffee for a month anyway — and after that to "drastically reduce" his "excessive consumption of coffee," in the words of Docteur Garreg, his determined GP. Garreg had (once again) diagnosed an acute inflammation of the gastric mucous membrane — painful gastritis, Type C. And that's how it felt too: painful. But Garreg had not only diagnosed Dupin with gastritis, he had diagnosed more fundamentally a "serious medical caffeine addiction with prototypical symptoms." Which was ridiculous. And the caffeine ban was a nightmarish command for Dupin. It was capable, if he took it completely seriously, of throwing him into a severe crisis psychologically, and that crisis would be a great deal more severe than any nonexistent addiction symptoms. So he had privately agreed on one petit café in the morning, and on the rule that a small coffee wasn't a coffee.
"I ... no, I'm —"
"I can hear the penguins." Nolwenn wasn't saying this ironically. He sometimes had the creeping suspicion she had tagged him with a GPS transmitter. He wouldn't have put it past her.
"Monsieur le Commissaire, the seminar begins in exactly three minutes."
"Okay. Riwal still needs to speak to you. It's about the break-in at the bank last night."
"Is there any news?"
During the break-in at a bank branch in a tiny backwater, somebody had not only stolen the money from an ATM but the entire ATM. Which required heavy-duty equipment. And which, all things considered, did not sound like a good idea.
"He and Inspector Kadeg were at the bank earlier. They've just come back."
"Tell him I'll be in touch from the car straightaway."
"Have fun, Monsieur le Commissaire."
Nolwenn hung up. Henri was still looking inquiringly at him.
"I've got to go." Henri turned toward the exit.
"Yes, me too." Dupin followed his friend with considerable reluctance. But there was nothing for it. He would have to suffer through this seminar.
* * *
The water was coming from everywhere: from the side, from the right, from the left, from in front, from behind, obliquely from below — sometimes, and rather as if by chance, from above too. This rain was unique: you couldn't see droplets of rain, these were infinite numbers of infinitely thin threads, tentacles that worked their way into clothing, driven by fickle movements of the wind as it constantly changed direction. No clouds were even visible; the sky was a nebulous, dull gray material. A monotone block. And it hung very low. Which Dupin found depressing on principle and which practically never happened in Brittany — it would all go perfectly with the seminar center. On top of this, it smelled of rain, the whole world smelled of rain. Musty.
The thirty meters from the exit of the main building to the entrance kiosk where he and Henri were taking shelter had been enough to leave them literally soaked through to their underwear. In the past, in Paris, rain had simply been rain. It was here in Brittany that Dupin had first experienced what this was: real rain — the same was true of the clouds, sky, and light. And of all the elements. Of all the senses. He had learned to distinguish between all the types of rain, just like the Bretons did; like Eskimos with snow. Even worse than threads of rain was heavy, full-on drizzle — le crachin — which was even less visible and which you only really noticed once you were dripping wet within seconds. But the most important thing Dupin had learned was — an admittedly abstract realization on days like this — it rained far less than the persistent, mean preconception would have it. He had recently read in a Paris paper: "There are two seasons in Brittany — the short period of long rainfalls and the long period of short rainfalls"; all serious scientific statistics belied these kinds of defamatory claims. In southern Brittany, there was less annual precipitation than on the Côte d'Azur. But something else clinched it: Bretons didn't actually take any notice of rain — a sophisticated attitude, Dupin thought. Not because they were so used to rain, no, but for two significant reasons: it was, after all, just the weather, and some things were more important. Life, for example. People would never have dreamed of calling off one of the countless festivals here just because it was raining. What's more, Bretons were resistant to their very cores to having anything dictated to them from "outside." Whether it was centralized Parisian plans or simply the weather. That's how one of the Bretons' most beloved idioms had come about, with which they launched their attacks if other people complained about the rain: "En Bretagne il ne pleut que sur les cons" —"In Brittany it only rains on idiots." Going out the door during heavy rain without even noticing it had made it onto the legendary magazine Bretons' list of the ten unmistakable traits that mark out Bretons. Along with things like making a big fuss when butter is unsalted; within the first two minutes of meeting someone saying: "Shall we have a drink?"; or as soon as more than twenty people are together, getting Gwenn ha Du out of their pocket — the Breton flag — to make it into a Breton gathering.
Henri and Dupin had parked next to each other, in the first row at the front of the enormous parking lot. Right now, on an ordinary Tuesday at five in the evening in the week before Easter, it was practically deserted.
The loud, steady beeping sounded again.
Dupin took his phone out of his jeans pocket, the screen covered in streaks. Hopefully the device was waterproof; he went through at least two mobiles a year on average. This one was just a month old, the commissaire's first smartphone, a small revolution instigated by Nolwenn.
Dupin saw Riwal's number. Of course. But now wasn't a good time. They needed to get going.
"I don't want to be late, Georges," Henri said. He was getting ready for the second sprint of the day, about another twenty meters to the cars. "I have to put in my plea for Breton bacon. I'm absolutely dying to get it through. Nothing else has so much flavor! Especially the bacon from Terre et Paille in Bossulan."
It really didn't make any sense to wait and see if the squalls would die down.
Dupin let his phone ring. The call would be forwarded to Nolwenn. Henri's words had made his mouth water despite the circumstances. Henri's meeting was about the annual ceremonial vote on which foods or dishes would be the theme of this year's "Semaine du Goût," or "Week of Flavor." For a week, four or five foods were celebrated in schools, nurseries, cafeterias, and also restaurants. An homage to the sheer endless sensuous treasures of France.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Missing Corpse"
Copyright © 2019 Jean-Luc Bannalec.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Brittany, law-enforcement, teamwork, murder-investigation, oyster-culture, Celtic-heritage-societies, translated, theft As innovative as Sicilian Commissario Montalbano and as irreverent as Dr Siri Paiboun, that is Breton Commissario Georges Dupin. The murder mystery is diabolical and guaranteed to baffle the reader. The characters are all too realistic and the scenery is awe inspiring. Have I established that I loved it and that you can read the summary in the publisher's blurb or other reviews? Good. I live in Wisconsin and have no idea about things like raising oysters for marketing or the viruses they are susceptible to. Nor did I know that there is an international problem of the theft of sand for industrial purposes. And I admit to not being aware of current Transceltic cultural heritage societies beyond those whose forebears came from Scotland and Eire. Guess I must have been living in a box or something. But I do know a few things about working with law enforcement, enough to know how much the dedicated ones are alike regardless of national allegiance! Commissario Dupin is one of the finest and I'm very happy that this translation is now available in English! I requested and received a free ebook copy from Minotaur Books/St Martin's Press via NetGalley. Thank you!
"A Missing Corpse" is subtitled "A Brittany Mystery," and a delightful and thought-provoking one it is from Jean luc Bannalec, especially if you like reading about gastronomic delights alongside the details of a murder investigation. And who doesn’t? We’re reading about food within the first few pages. A good start. And a body on the same page. Even better. Our author does not disappoint in either regard. Commissaire Georges Dupin is back in this, his fourth investigation. His fifth year with the Commissariat de Police Concarneau is approaching, and that hangs over his head throughout the book, and not in a good way, not for him. His friends and associates are looking forward to it. An elderly woman, Madame Bandol, claims to have seen a dead body while out walking. By the time the police get there – no body. Is the old actress – who may not be an actress, but her twin sister – confused? Dupin sets out to find out, of course. Soon we have a body. Just not “that” one. It’s revealed that the murdered man is a Scot. How has he come to be in France? Curiouser and curiouser. In between the pages of the book we get examples of what faithful readers have come to know and look forward to – the love of Breton that populates this series. The weather is described, the landscape, the sound of the sea, the smell of the rain. Familiar, happy, calming. Along the way we also receive notification of what makes the area “food famous” – in this case, oysters in the village of Port Belon. As Dupin meets and talks with the witnesses, the suspects, his subordinates and his superiors (that Prefect!), he gets to eat, and we get to follow along. Do not be hungry when you read these books. Always densely plotted, these books are, but this book seems even more than most, as thick as the “rocs” that the author describes in such detail. There are red herrings, missing (possible) witnesses, and alibis to check and double-check. Then he’s sidetracked by an investigation into the theft of sand off French beaches – that’s a close one, for a member of his team. That is how a Dupin investigation goes; it’s not just about murder, or missing bodies, it’s about old Breton myths, of Celtic legends and Druids and Celtic music. A suspect is almost killed. Oh, and it all hinges on the sighting of a "ghost." And Nolween, Dupin’s incomparable assistant, is there to remind him of his party. Oh, and did I mention the great news from his girlfriend? No wonder the man needs a glass or three of his favorite Gigondas to get through it all. It does tend to be a bit confusing, I’d have to admit. It takes a long while to get at the real reason for the murder(s). But, just as Madame Bandol’s favorite detective Hercule Poirot uses his little grey cells to put all the pieces together, Monsieur le Commissaire does the same. "The Missing Corpse" ends with a magnificent description of Dupin’s anniversary dinner. Everyone important in his life is there. That is the essence of these books; the characters, the life of Breton. Dupin solves mysteries. Life, glorious Breton life, goes on. Thanks to the publisher and to Net Galley for a copy of this book, in exchange for this review. (less)
The Missing Corpse sees the return of Commissaire Georges Dupin in another turn through Brittany. Dupin is called in when a body is reported to have been found. But once at the scene, no one can find the body. The only witness, and reporter of the crime…an aging actress with a sketchy memory. When a real body is found some distance away Dupin must determine whether there is one crime…or two. Well written, intricately plotted mystery, and descriptive prose. But, the pace was very slow. The constant breaks in the story to describe in detail the scenery, the food, the weather, etc., made it difficult to remain interested in the mystery. Dupin is affable and appealing, Madame Bandol is charming and rather funny, and interaction between these two characters was always very engaging. For anyone looking for a traditional crime story, a leisurely read, and a look into life in Brittany, this would be an enjoyable read. Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the advance reader copy made available for my review.