My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was recently introduced to this series, set in the Dordogne section of France in the sleepy little village of Saint-Denis, and I enjoyed the first book in the series so much that I was eager to move on to the second.
The Dark Vineyard again features Benoît (Bruno) Courrèges, chief of police of Saint-Denis, but also a talented cook and aficionado of good wines who delights in entertaining his many friends with wonderful food and wine from local sources. Some of my favorite parts of the book are descriptions of the foods he and others serve.
Bruno is an unusual policeman who is very protective of the people of his community and does not like arresting people, so he is always looking for solutions that do not involve clapping malefactors in handcuffs. For the most part, he succeeds.
He is called to the scene of a big fire at a local agricultural research station that had been involved in working on genetically modified crops. The fire had obviously been deliberately set and it destroyed a building with file cabinets containing the station's records, as well as much of the crops growing around it. It also almost killed the chief of the fire fighters when a gas can left in the building exploded. The man was rescued and pulled out of the building by Bruno.
Suspicion falls on some local committed environmentalists in regard to the setting of the fire. They had vigorously opposed the whole idea of genetically modified crops and had feared that such crops would cross-fertilize with organic crops being grown in the area. Once again, the national police are called in to head the investigation, but Bruno works with them and does his best to shield his neighbors from their suspicions.
Progress on the investigation is slow, but suddenly the urgency heats up when two suspicious deaths occur - an old man who had a small wine-making operation and the young man whom he had recently adopted as his son and heir. The young man was one of those committed environmentalists who had been under suspicion for the fire. Are the fire and the deaths of the two men somehow related?
Through all of this, Bruno continues on his daily rounds of interacting with all of the villagers, taking care of his basset hound and his chickens, shuffling off one love and perhaps taking up with a new and more promising one, and making his truffle omelet to feed his friends. One has to wonder if life in rural France is really as bucolic and idyllic as it is portrayed here. If so, I want to move there! But I suspect there may be problems which are not addressed in these stories. Even so, Saint-Denis makes a wonderful destination to escape for a few hours from the frustrations of modern American life.
I can't say that I enjoyed this book quite as much as the first one, but it was still a good read. Martin Walker obviously loves this region of the world and delights in bringing its people and culture, particularly its mouth-watering food and wines, to us in his Bruno stories.
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