20 July 2011

Review: THE DARK VINEYARD, Martin Walker

  • Publisher: Quercus, 2009
  • ISBN 978-1-84724-915-9
  • 309 pages
  • Source: my local library
Publisher's Blurb (from Fantastic Fiction)
Benoît (Bruno) Courrèges - devoted friend, cuisinier extraordinaire and the town's only municipal policeman - rushes to the scene when a research station for genetically modified crops is burned down outside Saint-Denis. Bruno immediately suspects a group of fervent environmentalists who live nearby, but the fire is only the first in a string of mysteries centering on the region's fertile soil.

Then a bevy of winemakers descends on Saint-Denis, competing for its land and spurring resentment among the villagers. Romances blossom. Hearts are broken. Some of the sensual pleasures of the town - a dinner of a truffle omelette and grilled bécasses, a community grape-crushing - provide an opportunity for both warm friendship and bitter hostilities to form. The town's rivals - Max, an environmentalist who hopes to make organic wine; Jacqueline, a flirtatious, newly arrived Québécoise; and Fernando, the heir to an American wine fortune - act increasingly erratically. Events grow ever darker, culminating in two suspicious deaths, and Bruno finds that the problems of the present are never far from those of the past.

My take

I very much regret that I haven't read the first in this series, BRUNO CHIEF OF POLICE. I'm going to remedy that as quickly as possible. Fortunately my library has a copy.

Just recently we've spent hours each night watching television coverage of the Tour de France and consequently my reading of THE DARK VINEYARD has gone rather slowly. But I don't think that has been a bad thing as it really is a book to savour. It goes much deeper than crime fiction. In fact at times crime takes a back seat as Bruno does all the other things that it seems the lone policeman in a small French town must take care of - attending to the Mayor's wishes, being a fire fighter, a rugby coach, arranging funerals, and keeping the peace in general.

When the deaths come, about half way through the book, it is a bit of a shock, and I was beginning to wonder whether anything was going to happen, more than the arson attack on the research station which occurs right at the beginning.

The setting is rich with characters and local customs and struck me as having considerable similarity to Louise Penny's village of Three Pines, except that Bruno is an insider and has a lot more local knowledge and acceptance than Penny's Inspector Gamache has. The canvas of Bruno's town of St. Denis seems heavily populated with vibrant and cosmopolitan characters. Bruno himself is happy living there, in a house he has built, although his recent friend Isabelle has moved to Paris and is trying to tempt Bruno into moving too.

The book deals thoughtfully with other issues too - genetically modified crops, multinational companies seeking to expand at the expense of local industries, the role of local governments in providing for their residents, the importance of keeping traditions alive.

You'll see from the tags I am using that I have decided I can call THE DARK VINEYARD a cozy although of course it is also a police procedural.

My rating: 4.6

Other reviews to check

Bruno, Chief of Police
1. Bruno, Chief of Police (2008)
2. The Dark Vineyard (2009)
3. Black Diamond (2010)
4. The Crowded Grave (2011)

There's a lot of interesting background about Bruno and the Perigord region on his site: Bruno, Chief of Police including a blog

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