‘So, a mad cow could eat a human body.’

Countryside, coastline, cows and cadavers combine to create a multiple murder mystery unlike any other. A compelling four part series (that was also edited together to create a long film version) P’tit Quinquin uses its clearly defined sense of location to show a series of dark deaths in a rural community which is observed by the titular character, part-time chapel-boy, full-time miscreant, who enjoys devious endeavours with his friends as they cycle through the countryside seeking new locations to play around and prank.

Commandant Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) and his colleague Lieutenant Carpentier (Philippe Jore) have a new case to deal with as the corpse of a cow is discovered in a World War II bunker without any clear idea of how it got there. Observing the helicopters having to raise the dead beast from the bunker are P’tit Quinquin (Alane Delhaye) and his friends, including his young love Eve Terrier (Lucy Caron), all of whom take every opportunity to be naughty or voyeuristic as they roam the local area on their bikes. An autopsy to understand the mystery of the blood strewn cow reveals horrible consequences, for inside the deceased beast are the chopped up human remains of a woman, minus the head. Later the head is found in a field and the victim is revealed to be Mrs Lebleu. As if that was not horrific enough it is shortly after her funeral that another dead cow is found, this time on the beach, inside of which (together with one of Mrs Lebleu’s previously missing fingers) is another butchered body, Mrs Lebleu’s secret lover Mr Bhiri. Van der Weyden and Carpentier now have a multiple murder case to investigate as matters go from one bizarre incident to another. And they also have to deal with what seems to be the constant presence of P’tit Quinquin and his lovable rascal behaviour.

P’tit Quinquin takes its murder mystery plotting to levels of deliberate absurdity and grotesque humour. It is set amidst the countryside and on the long stretch of coastline with relatively few internal locations (mainly in the church at funerals, farmyard barns or a restaurant that overlooks the beach) which helps accentuate the isolation of the area and its community (many played by local people, adding to the realism in what is a distinctly surreal detective story) placed in the midst of horrific crimes. This is accentuated by the reference early on to Émile Zola’s La Bête Humaine referring to presumed hereditary madness and bizarre murder but later extending these increasingly absurd theories. Reference is also made to Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, more commonly known as mad cows’ disease, in the bovine discoveries of the first two victims. Van der Weyden and Carpentier’s work appears out be cut out as events unfold and their case might need the least likely of helpers – that of P’tit Quinquin, with his frequent misdemeanours and roadside cycling shenanigans.

All the characters have their own eccentricities, from Van der Weyden’s facial tics to families trying to cope with unusual behaviours or losses, all centred around the endearingly disobedient Quinquin with his love of the environment, the young Eve and attempts at puffing at cigarettes. P’tit Quinquin is a highly original and distinctively different murder mystery where the landscape and the community link into the absurdly grotesque crimes to make for compelling viewing. The two DVD release contains the four episode version of the story and comes highly recommended for its combined realism and sick humour.