Clues to My Crime: Martin Walker’s A TASTE FOR VENGEANCE

In “The Clues to My Crime,” authors explain the influences behind their latest works of crime fiction. Here, Martin Walker tells us about what inspired his forthcoming novel, A Taste for Vengeance, the latest installment in his Bruno, Chief of Police series, due in June from Knopf. Walker has ten previous Bruno novels to his name, all international best sellers.

 

 

Although I set it in the enchanting Perigord region of southwest France, the roots of my new novel lie in Belfast, specifically in “the Troubles” of Northern Ireland in the 1970s. I was a young reporter for the British newspaper The Guardian, covering the bomb blasts, riots, and the anguish of watching something like a civil war in hauntingly familiar British streets. Memories stay with me: of the rebel songs in the pubs, the women and children cursing the British troops patrolling the towns, and the sound of military choppers whop-whopping overhead.

The SAS agents who executed unarmed IRA militants, Gibraltar, 1988

Many of the participants on both sides are still alive, and they remember, too. The intensity of the conflict has been eased by the Good Friday agreement (and the help of Bill Clinton in securing it), but bombs and killing still occur, and some aspects of that conflict may never be forgiven. Operation Flavius in 1988 is one example, when British SAS special forces shot dead three unarmed IRA militants in Gibraltar where they were planning a car bomb. The car was already filled with explosives. The SAS feared a remote detonator could trigger the bomb.

So what if IRA veterans with friends and relatives among the dead, and making new lives in France, learn that one of the British troops involved in Operation Flavius is living among them with a new identity?

And covering the Iraq War in 2003, I learned just how closely the British and U.S. military were cooperating, just how good were their snipers, just how much loose U.S. cash was floating around Iraq and paying for “private security operatives” who looked to me almost indistinguishable like mercenaries. Many of them were former and U.S. British troops, so those memories came also into my back story.

So how does the hero of my novels, a French country policeman called Bruno, found himself embroiled in these memories of Belfast, Basra and Baghdad? It starts with a cookery school in the Perigord, run by Bruno’s friend Pamela, a Scottish woman. One of her clients fails to turn up as planned and she asks Bruno to find out if she was on the flight from London. This leads Bruno to a murder scene, and the inquiry is under way with the FBI and British Intelligence soon becoming involved, along with Bruno’s lost love, Isabelle, a former police colleague who now holds a high-powered job coordinating European anti-terrorist operations.

Tapenade a La Chevrefeuil

It is hard to describe the way that an idea or a theme grows and becomes embellished in a writer’s mind until characters, sub-plots, locations and personality conflicts start to come together into a novel. But I knew I wanted to include some aspects of French life that are close to my heart. One of them is the food of the Perigord, the culinary heartland of France, and Bruno loves to cook for his friends and to seek out good local wines.

Another aspect of French life is rather more personal. I used to be a keen rugby player in my youth, and in this part of France, rugby is close to being a religion. I’m now a keen member of my local rugby club, where the game is played by boys and girls alike, and I’m honored to be the parrain (or honorary godfather) of the youth team. So I wanted to bring in a theme of women’s rugby, and since my local village cop, Pierre Simonet, trains the youth teams, here was a sub-plot for my fictional hero Bruno.

I knew about all this first-hand. But although my wife, Julia, is a food writer, and we have written cookbooks together, I did not know much about running a cookery school. So I went to interview my friend Ian Fisk, an expatriate Brit who for the past seven years with his wife, Sara, has been running Cook Dordogne, a very successful cookery school at La Chevrefeuil, not far from my home.

Because Pamela in the novel asks Bruno to run a tour of the Bergerac vineyards for her clients, I picked the brains of other friends: Emma Mayes of duckandtruffle.com who runs wine tours; and Caro Feely of chateaufeely.com, who runs a guest house and wine tours along with her family’s splendid vineyard. One thing I learned from my life in journalism was that expert knowledge is just a phone call away.

But I wanted to add one final echo from my own memories. So at one point, an Irish woman is carrying a gun while strolling along a French country road and singing “Kevin Barry,” that most haunting of the rebel songs:

 

‘Just before the dawn was breaking, in his lonely prison cell,

British soldiers tortured Barry, just because he would not tell

The names of his companions and other things they wished to know.

‘Turn informer or we’ll hang you.’ Kevin Barry answered ‘No.’

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