Originally published in French as La Bete du Marais and translated into English by Ian Monk, The Beast of the Camargue is the second instalment of the Commandant de Palma crime series by Xavier-Marie Bonnot. Set in Provence and the marshlands of the Camargue, de Palma is currently signed off on sick leave when a wealthy woman approaches him to find her missing husband. Soon bodies are turning up, including known members of the local mob with all clues pointing towards the legend of the Tarasque.
I enjoyed learning about the mythologies of Provence. I had never before heard of the Tarasque, a reptilian monster with the head of a lion and feet of a bear (its photo on wikipedia is rather scary) or Frédéric Mistral’s Mireille, a poem of two young lovers and a witch named Taven. Though Taven is mentioned during the story, not much is said about her but I have been prompted to find out more. The Tarasque however, is central to the plot and gives it something to differentiate it in a crowded genre.
The Knights of the Tarasque should not be confused with the Knights of Templar, they are the men responsible for pushing the Tarasque statue around Tarascon during festivals, no doubt a position of honour but certainly not a prelude to historical conspiracy.
Having not read the first instalment, The First Fingerprint, I felt the relationship between de Palma and Moracchini lacked context and seemed a little stilted without knowing why. There’s also a back story of Isabelle Mercier that keeps cropping up and at times I felt I should really know more to be able to understand de Palma’s state of mind. Saying that, I don’t think the main plot suffers and it works fine as a standalone read.
De Palma’s nickname is The Baron and I would have expected this to crop up more in the dialogue however the author (or translator perhaps) switches between using de Palma and The Baron in the third person prose. This was a little confusing as it felt like they were two different people, especially with trying to keep track of all the local mob connections at the same time.
The Beast of the Camargue is published in paperback by MacLehose Press. Many thanks to Quercus for sending me a copy for review.