Inspector Paul Mazarelle knows dysfunctional families intimately—his own and his wife Martine’s. The first time the young Paul saw his father Guy on the stage, he thought he was a god. Guy was the tall, handsome Fire Chief in Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, a role he played at the small Théâtre de la Huchette in Paris for his entire career. Though he fancied himself a peacock, he was only a bit player. Paul did not see his father very often. And one day Guy walked out on the boy and his mother, and never came back.
When the American tourists, Judy and Ben Reece, come to Mazarelle’s commissariat in the Dordogne to report a theft, the Inspector notes the rise in rural crime. “Families nowdays fall apart like wet tissue paper,” he says, no doubt remembering his absentee father. Judy likes Mazarelle’s sad sympathetic brown eyes, his droopy mustache. She knows that his pretty young wife, Martine, recently died of cancer. The Inspector, she fears, may need more help than they do. Had she known that Liberation once called him "the Swiss Army knife of detectives," she'd have thought otherwise.