Sunday Salon: Placeism on the Dordogne and in Botswana

Bruno ACDeath Sunday Salon

This Sunday, I wasn't sure whether to write about two books I've recently read, or about some that Jenny (my younger daughter) has been devouring. But as Karen at Euro Crime has posted my reviews of both in her weekly "new reviews" feature, I might as well mention these.
There are strong similarities and differences between these two titles: Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker (published this week by Quercus) and A Carrion Death by "Michael Stanley" (also published this week, by Headline). The most obvious similarity is that they are both crime fiction. Less obvious unless you've read them is that they are both jolly good: time flashes by as you read. But the similarity that struck me most forcibly is the strong sense of place conveyed. In neither case is the author writing about his own milieu. Martin Walker is an experienced journalist and popular historian, here writing about a small town in the Dordogne. Yes, he has lived there part-time for some years, but he isn't French. Bruno, however, is, and he's a character with whom the reader feels in tune: one identifies with what is going on in his head, not just in terms of how he thinks in order to deal with the crime he has to solve, but in terms of his feelings. One senses the author's genuine, but not overly sentimental, sympathy with the man, the people, the region and its history.
Similarly, Michael Sears and Stanley Trollop, coauthors of A Carrion Death, are not Black and they don't live in Botswana — though they both live in other African countries (one of them part time) and have between them a range of experiences relevant to the story in the book. Although A Carrion Death is an adventure story, whereas Bruno is gentler and more reflective, "Michael Stanley" gets into the heart and mind, as well as the deductive brain, of his main character, police detective David "Kubu" Bengu, as well as  (necesarily more sketchily)sundry secondary characters. The book's action occurs over a wide range of African geography, vividly conveyed: not simply in descriptive terms, but in a manner that makes the reader feel as if he or she is there. Again, I have a strong sense of the authors' love for their creation, which adds a dimension to the reading experience.
Of course, I am neither a country French police chief nor a Botswanan detective, so what do I know, you might, justifiably, ask? Nothing about Botswana and not much about the Dordogne is the true answer. Yet, on reading these books, I felt as if I was not just "there", but that I "got it".
Marvellous. And of course, in the words of an old friend of mine who also reads much crime fiction as well as travel writing — it is a great substitute for actually having to go anywhere. That last sentence isn't entirely serious, of course, and I don't want to end on a silly note. The truth of it is that as well as thoroughly enjoying these books, I felt I learned a lot on the way. Some of that learning was factual, but most was more general understanding, and empathy with life in a part of the world distant in almost every way I can think of from my little corner of it.  
If I've piqued your interest, please do read my reviews of these books at Euro Crime.