Under the Guise of Death
by Vivian Conroy
(part of the Murder Will Follow series).
Thanks for your suggestions! And now, let’s keep going!
Next Stop: Finistère (France)
Degemer mat, my murderous travel companions, as they say in the native Celtic language of Brittany.
Tucked away in the rugged corners of western Brittany, Finistère unveils a landscape where nature’s raw power and timeless beauty converge. Stretching out to the Atlantic's edge, it rightfully earns its name, meaning “end of the earth”. Towering cliffs battered by restless waves and lighthouses, frequently draped in a cloak of fog, stand sentinel over vast expanses of blue-black waters. Moving inland, the vista transforms into rolling moors and tranquil pastures, now and then interrupted by age-old stone relics recounting tales from bygone days, while quaint villages with cobblestone streets and slate-roofed cottages paint a serene picture.
Doesn’t this sound like the perfect place for a murder mystery? Indeed, it does! As we embark on this journey, brace yourselves to encounter spots that don't just captivate the eye but also ignite the imagination.
Les Îles de Glénan
The picturesque archipelago boasts nine principal islands and over a dozen smaller islets. We step ashore on the primary isle of Saint-Nicolas, immediately facing the archipelago's sole eatery. It was here, amid shimmering white sands and crystal-clear waters, where Jean-Luc Bannalec set the scene for one instalment of his Brittany Mystery series, featuring the astute Commissaire Dupin: Murder on Brittany Shores.
The archipelago provides countless spots ripe for conjuring a fictional demise: the island of Bananec, connected to Saint-Nicolas by a strip of sand, a so-called tombolo, which is revealed only at low tide; the handful of guesthouses dotting Saint-Nicolas; buildings erected by the famous Glénan Sailing School; and countless lighthouses that help mariners navigate through these treacherous waters. If only the weather had not changed so quickly, then our murderer might have managed an unseen escape by boat …
Back on solid ground, we make our way to the very west of Finistère, stopping at Pointe du Raz. Well, to be precise, the car park is situated a brisk 1.5 kilometres away. I’m afraid we’ll have to walk, but rest assured, it will be worth it!
The wind is our companion on our way through blooming heathland, and the cries of seagulls remind us not to leave the given path. Veering past a military establishment – no photos, please! – we are greeted by a wild, jagged expanse of land that seemingly dives headfirst into the tumultuous sea below. Mind your step and stay clear of the precipice, for the gusts here have a mischievous tendency to sweep the unwary off their feet. Some brave tourists venture even further down, and it isn't too far-fetched to envision the lifeless form of an unfortunate victim of some dark design at the bottom of the cliff. Any detective tasked with unravelling our imaginative murder case will find the landscape a formidable adversary, as Mother Nature might have already claimed any vestiges of
Télépherique de Brest
Spanning the Penfeld River, the cable car serves as a unique bridge between two of Brest’s districts, covering a length of 400 metres. Two cabins simultaneously embark from their respective stations. As they converge midway, they don't pass “shoulder to shoulder” but rather in a stacked fashion – one hovering above the other. Certain windows darken as the cars approach residential buildings in order to respect the privacy of their occupants. Can you already imagine a puzzling murder plot unfolding in this scene?
For a dash more intrigue, cast your gaze downward toward the river. Beneath our vantage point from the cable car, where the Penfeld River meets the Atlantic, sprawls a vast shipyard of the French Navy. Might the seed of a murderous motive be buried within one of those naval vessels, now berthed for refurbishment after returning from a clandestine mission?
One of the most illustrious sleuths in the history of crime fiction has also made his investigative mark in Finistère: none other than George Simenon's Maigret in The Yellow Dog, set in the beautiful town of Concarneau.
Those of you who read French could explore the Mary Lester series written by Jean Failler. To date, 62 books have been released, set in different parts of Brittany, including Finistère. Two books have also been translated into English.
Following such a hearty break, you might yearn for a lengthy, digestive walk. However, our next stop is only a few steps away, nestled discreetly between quaint homes and a traditional French boulangerie: the Guimiliau Parish close.
Stepping through a grand stone archway, we find ourselves in the churchyard, immediately captivated by a towering calvary. Built in the 16th century, it portrays a staggering 37 scenes depicting the life and death of Jesus, each intricately chiselled in stone. Looming behind is the bell tower, resplendent in the Beaumanoir style, with the ossuary and a serene graveyard further beyond.
Feel free to meander. Admire the church's porch, an exquisite blend of Gothic and Renaissance architectural artistry. Pay a visit to the little museum where a kind, elderly gentleman eagerly entertains your curiosities. Or simply soak in the enigmatic aura of the place, all the while scouting for that quintessential setting for your next murder mystery tale.
Château du Taureau
For the last leg of our imaginative journey, we navigate toward the Northern shores of Finistère. More precisely, we set course for the Morlaix Bay and board yet another boat for a brief 10-minute journey over the waves.
Emerging from the vast expanse of the Atlantic is Château du Taureau, a fortress built in the 1500s when the people of Morlaix faced frequent threats from English raiders. In later years, the bastion's purpose shifted from defence to detention – a change which, given its isolated, aqueous surroundings, seems apt. After all, with the relentless ocean at its doorstep, the fort grants no easy egress, not even to a cunning murderer seeking to elude capture...
Our boat docks at a modest pier, where a flight of steps ascends to the fort's sole portal. Beyond this gateway lies the oval courtyard of the fortress. We relish the stroll through the old prison cells and appreciate the panoramic view from the tower terraces, once used by the Germans in World War II to install an aircraft defence system. As we make our way back out, let’s take a quick peek into the gift shop before leaving. What would a tourist adventure be without one?
In the book nook, we realise that a good number of crime novels with reference to Finistère have been published ‒ but in French only. If you know the language and don't want the murderous journey through Finistère to end, check out the books published by Editions Alain Bargain. The small press specialises in local crime fiction and their books are available in digital formats. Why not fittingly start with Jean-Louis Kerguillec’s
Le disparu du Taureau?
And so concludes our fictional journey through the murderous Finistère – a region that captivates with breath-taking, varied landscapes and where a mysterious secret seems to lie hidden around every corner.
While our literary haul might be more modest than we had envisaged, it serves as an invitation to let our dark and vivid imaginations run wild.
Should any fellow traveller stumble upon a gem of a read that has escaped our notice, my ears are ever eager. As always, I will share them upon arrival at our next destination.
In the meantime, happy reading!
Daniela M. Hartinger grew up raiding the shelves of her local library for children’s detective novels and ended up devouring Agatha Christie and the like. She has combined her literary passion with her enthusiasm for foreign languages to work as a freelance book translator. She also dabbles with writing and can’t resist a bar of chocolate – which, nowadays, she must share with her ever-hungry toddler son.