Charming, picturesque town of St. Denis is an unlikely place for murder. And so is Bruno, as unlikely a policeman as there can be from his high handed colleagues of urban cities. Bruno loves his town, his little cottage and his food and wine (he is especially well known for his delicacy of truffle omelettes). But when a sudden fire turns into an arson case that brings national publicity, Bruno has to apply his wits to solve the crime as well as to preserve his town’s ways from getting spoiled at the hands of corporate marauders.
Delightful! Now this is not a word you normally would associate with a mystery but I can’t describe Martin Walker’s The Dark Vineyard any better than this. This book introduced me to many things. It took me to the heart of rural France, in the bucolic Perigord region with its distinct culture revolving around wine and its scrumptious cuisine – foie gras, Bécasse, truffle et al.
Set in fictional town of St. Denis, it could have easily classified as another cosy mystery had it not been for its protagonist, Bruno Courreges. Bruno is chief of police, in fact only policeman of St. Denis, a man in his late thirties with an idiosyncratic sense of justice and deep love for his town and its people. He is a man of common sense and his quick thinking diffuses quite a few alarming situations in the book in a high profile case. Bruno also has his own scars from his army days, a reason probably why he is so set upon maintaining his life in St. Denis intact and against moving to Paris as wished by his lover, Inspector Isabelle Perrault of Police Nationale.
There are double mysteries in the book. The first case starts with arson. A shed where secret research is being carried out by agricultural research institute is burned down. Nobody is aware that the research was on GMO crop. This opens Pandora’s Box as various government agencies descend on St. Denis, to round up local e’colos. Things get complicated when an American millionaire arrives wanting to buy land around St. Denis to expand his wine operations in France. Though mayor of the town is in favour of this scheme, Bruno is cautiously optimistic; torn between his town’s prospect and his longing to preserve its soul. The case gets really heated when two dead bodies are found. The mysteries in themselves are comparatively easy to figure out. It is the motive behind the crime that is more intriguing. As Bruno solves both cases, justice is served but again in its own inexplicable manner.
The Dark Vineyard also was a mini guide to me for different kinds of wines and the intricate ways of wine making. For a novice like me, it offered interesting insights into all things related to wine; from different types of grapes to the techniques of grape picking and the subtle ways in which wines of different countries differentiate themselves.
Finally, a word about supporting characters of the book, there are so many of them – Albert, Ahmed, the mayor, JJ, Jaqueline, Bondino, Baron, Pamela, Fabiola, Max, Cresseil, Fauquet, Hubert, Nathalie, Dominique, Stephane, Alphonse; everybody playing an important role and giving rich texture to the country life of St. Denis. I am sure many of them were introduced in the first book – ‘Bruno Chief of Police’ and will continue to play notable roles in subsequent stories as well.
I am definitely going to read the series from start now. If you are looking out to curl up on a bright, lazy afternoon with a book that is rich in characters and plot, try this one.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time.
My other reviews of Bruno Courreges series –
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