The King Arthur Case by Jean-Luc Bannalec (Minotaur, 2022)
By Warner Holme: Jean-Luc Bannalec’s The King Arthur Case represents a new entry in the author’s Commissaire Georges Dupin series. It also sports a connection to one of the western world’s most well-known schools of folklore and mythology.
Georges Dupin is an entertaining individual, a sour man disillusioned with the Paris police yet frequently finding himself working to do a favor connected to them. This is in the midst of a butter shortage oh, something that sounds amusing as it is described in a way which simultaneously creates that emotional reaction and helps to illustrate aspects of French culture as well as Dupin’s reaction to them.
He is helping out with deaths at a conference for the International Arthurian Society, specifically the French branch of it. Now the international Arthurian Society is a real group that has existed since at least the 1940s, although certainly none of the names within this volume directly correlated to anyone listed on their website. Still, the use of such adds a nice weight for those familiar with the subject matter. Dupin is called on with a couple inspectors to help him deal with one murder in the area, only four more bodies to quickly pile up even as the various academics from different fields attempt to explain their own importance.
The reflection of acadamia, the jealousies and backbiting and tunnel vision, is quite well entrenched in this book. As a result anyone unable to grasp this, or any one simply uninterested, will likely not appreciate large swaths of the book. The personalities of each serve well of course, yet a bulk of the story is given to the question of undiscovered artifacts proving the existence of a King Arthur or the like.
For an Arthurian scholar there will be nothing new in this volume, debated French names and alternative interpretations of symbols and texts abound. None of these are exceptionally deep dives into the material, however most of them will entertain or not offend a scholar. The bulk amount of material dealing with the grail is on slightly rougher ground, however as the term did not come into common usage until many centuries after other Arthurian lore had already begun to build up this is perhaps appropriate.
One aspect which might cause chuckles due to book formatting is the name of a victim. Specifically one of the scholars killed is named Paul Picard. Due to the author name is Jean-Luc being on every other page, those in which the surname of the victim of a nearby will likely remind the reader of a certain famous Frenchmen from science fiction. It is a small coincidence, but may cause a moment of pause for some readers.
In a lot of ways The King Arthur Case is very much a cozy mystery. There are significant light moments scattered throughout, an entertaining but not overly broken detective, and connections to matters that would otherwise not seem life and death. While the high bodycount pushes away this idea to a small degree, it remains a relatively easy read. For fans of the series it is easy to recommend, and also for fans of Arthurian lore. While not the best place to first meet the detective, it is not a bad way to introduce oneself to Commissaire Georges Dupin.