The defining characteristic of Daniel Jacquot is that, as a loose forward for France’s rugby team, he scored a famous try to defeat England at Twickenham. Two decades on he is a homicide Chief Inspector with the Marseilles judiciare, but after a fight with a colleague has been banished up-country to Cavaillon. That story is told in Jacquot and the Waterman, in which he tracks a serial killer. The underlying theme of these books is Provence, both the countryside and the city of Marseilles, and the combination of scenery, food and people, which make this such a magical part of the world. Oh, and Jacquot has a ponytail and smokes dope – clearly an outlaw.
In Jacquot and the Master, the chief inspector does not appear until page 99, and the first body is not found until page 321. This allows O’Brien time to build the suspense, which revolves around the Master, Auguste Vilotte – an aging artist, a relic of the great days of Picasso, Dali, Dufy and Chagall – and the intrigues going on to capture not only Vilotte’s works, but also his fabled collection of his contemporaries’ masterpieces and memorabilia. The scene is set in a luxury hotel, a remodelled castle-cum-monastery with a magnificent kitchen, and a cast of potential murderers, conveniently cut off from the world by a storm at a crucial point, and nearly all with a range of motives and opportunities.
The story has Jacquot finding out more about each of the suspects, with a number of clues and red herrings being sown for us to look back at and make the connection. In the end, and following a climactic fire and another body, it is a combination of information about the past (which we are not privy to before the denouement – bad mark) and the sorting of motives, which allows for the responsibilities for the murders to be sheeted home. It also allows Jacquot to be the arbiter of justice, which is not quite satisfying (although the fate of Vilotte’s collection is a brilliant stroke). The plot is very carefully planned and the action moves along, including Jacquot’s meeting up again with Claudine Eddé, from an earlier book, which hints at a future for them that we see achieved in Jacquot and the Angel. But somehow its all a bit too pat, and the characters don’t somehow match up adequately to their back stories, and the denouement to the main murder is a bit too sudden and unheralded. The outcome does suggest questions about what is true justice (given that the book starts with an old murder) and about who should determine life and death, but doesn’t really examine those questions.
So, as with the earlier books, I am left with a slight feeling of dissatisfaction that something that started out so promisingly has not ended quite so well. But O’Brien does write beautifully about the food and the places and the people of Provence (he has been a travel writer after all), and Jacquot can be added to our list of the men who can go down mean streets without themselves being mean.
Details: Publisher: Headline ISBN: 978 0 7553 3505 3
Other books by Martin O’Brien – All the Girls, Jacquot and the Waterman, Jacquot and the Angel, Jacquot and the Fifteen