Thursday, April 09, 2009

Pierre Magnan's country life

I once stayed at a campground in the Dordogne region of France. On an excursion into the local village, I was regarded with great concentration by some ancient men sitting around a small table outside a shop.

My first thought was that they were suspicious of outsiders. I later guessed that village life gave them time to cogitate at great length on all sorts of things, including ephemera such as passing tourists.

I'm strongly reminded of that encounter about halfway into Pierre Magnan's Death in the Truffle Wood. Magnan sets his book in a village of 900 people in the Basses-Alpes of France. A number of people have disappeared, but the investigation gets underway slowly. Far more to the fore are the mysteries and the hints thereto in the lives of the villagers and of the commissaire called in to investigate the disappearances. This novel, in other words, uses people to create a vivid, unfamiliar (to me) setting.

Though her orientation is generally more urban than this, I'd bet that Fred Vargas reads Magnan. And I'd bet that her readers would like Magnan as well.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Blogger Philip said...

I'm quite sure they would, Peter. Some might be the more encouraged to read Death in the Truffle Wood if they know it received the Martin Beck Award. Only a few of Magnan's many novels are crime fiction, but among those few, there is what I consider a masterpiece pure and simple: The Murdered House, which was awarded Le Prix RTL and Le Prix Mystere de la critique, the latter also having gone to Vargas, and nominated for the CWA Historical Dagger (its events take place in 1896 and 1920). It is one of those rare books in which everything is in place, and the evocation of Provence, where Magnan has lived his very long life, is magical. And if you then don't want to leave, there is the sequel, Beyond the Grave. The Murdered House and Beyond the Grave are vastly superior to a rather large number of books, or the authors thereof, getting far too much attention these days. I mention no names, I just look at the guilty parties and whistle, as my grandma used to say.

April 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Death in the Truffle Wood did indeed win the Swedish Crime Writers' Academy's Martin Beck Award for best translated crime novel in 1983.

Detection and investigation have taken over the action in the pages I have read since I made this post, but with as vivid attention as before to the village of Banon and to the characters.

April 10, 2009  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks for the recommendations Philip and Peter.

April 11, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll definitely look for more of Pierre Magnan, maybe as soon as today. What a sense of place and a sense of the pace of village life he conveys, right from the opening scene of a truffle hunter and his beloved sow.

April 11, 2009  

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