The Voice of the Spirits
PublisherMacLehose Press
Date Published25 April 2013
Price£ 7.99

The Voice of the Spirits

by Xavier-Marie Bonnot

An elderly art collector is found dead in his gated mansion with a hole in his forehead and a tribal mask from Papua New Guinea over his face. Commandant Michel de Palma is called to investigate.


I last met Commandant Michel de Palma in The First Fingerprint, very early in my reviewing career. That was his first outing and The Voice of the Spirits is his third. I’m now sorry that I somehow missed the second in the series, The Beast of the Camargue. Based on Xavier Marie-Bonnot’s latest book, I will certainly do what I rarely have time to do and make sure I seek out the second book for the sake of completeness, as this is a series well worth following in detail.

De Palma is the usual flawed cop, too close to retirement to have concerns about how his career might be progressing. He’s marking time and isn’t too concerned about who knows it. He also has bags of Gallic charm, knowing when to cajole and when to threaten to get the results he wants. He also manages to juggle his love life and his work without it having an adverse impact on his ability to do his job, which is something many fictional British cops could lean a useful lesson from.

An anonymous tip-off leads de Palma to a gated mansion near the coast in Marseilles. He finds the body of a man, an elaborate tribal mask obscuring his face and covering the hole in his forehead that was the cause of his death, a hole that doesn’t appear to have been caused by a bullet. The house is full of valuable antiques that bear witness to a long history of collecting, including many items from Papua New Guinea, an area that the dead man clearly specialised in.

Although a nearby security camera turns up some footage of the anonymous informant who clearly encountered more than he bargained for in what was intended to be a simple case of burglary, De Palma ends up with very little to go on. An old journal provides details of the murdered man’s voyage to Papua New Guinea 70 years earlier, and de Palma is left to discover how the past and present have managed to collide so many years later.

I normally have a very low tolerance level for books that try to interweave the past and the present, but here Marie-Bonnot manages this task with consummate ease and I was as fascinated by the accounts of the now-dead Dr Delorme’s voyage of collection as I was by the extracts from various social anthropology texts that precede each chapter.

Marie-Bonnot writes with a skill and intelligence that is complimented by Justin Phipps’ colloquial translation that never seems clumsy or awkward, even when he replaces what is clearly Marseilles street slang with its nearest English equivalent. This series, like its main character, is maturing extremely well.

Reviewed 18 October 2013 by Linda Wilson