A trip to the rural countryside of southwestern France seemed like a good option for a few summer days' read. Martin Walker's "Bruno, Chief of Police" series has been dependably entertaining, so I picked up the next book in the series and immersed myself in the culture and concerns of the little town of Saint-Denis where men are manly, women are womanly, and children are mostly offstage except when their presence is required for dramatic effect.
The life of Saint-Denis revolves around wine, cooking, rugby, affairs of the heart, cheese, and truffles. Oh, and politics. Politics seems at the heart of most activities in the community.
We soon learn in Black Diamond that all is not wine and truffles in the lives of the citizens of the town. Tensions have arisen over immigrants coming into the area, some of whom have entered illegally, aided by human smugglers.
As the story develops, we learn that the Chinese are at the center of the smuggling operation and they are clashing with local Vietnamese residents, most of whom came to France (or their parents did) after the French pulled out of Vietnam in the 1950s. Vietnamese businesses are being attacked by Asian assailants, who, it turns out, are Chinese, emissaries of the despised and feared Chinese triads.
But why? Why has this antipathy developed? Well, it all has to do with truffles.
The creme de la creme, so to speak, of the truffle world is the "black diamond" which grows only in the French countryside, but the Chinese have found a way to smuggle some of their own truffles into the country and substitute them for the black diamonds. It's all a part of a gigantic fraud and money laundering scheme which threatens the good name of the French truffle market and the economy which it helps to support.
Meanwhile, there is a secondary plot line having to do with the supposedly environmentalist prodigal son of a local industrialist returning home and deciding to run for mayor against his father and against the current mayor, Bruno Courreges' friend and mentor. Moreover, Bruno's current girlfriend, Pamela, is strongly attracted to the environmentalist.
Ah, it is a tangled web! It becomes even more tangled when a local hero of the French wars in Vietnam and Algeria and one of Bruno's hunting companions (another Manly Man) is brutally murdered and it appears that his murder is somehow related to the firebombing of Vietnamese businesses. Bruno must work with the national police to try to solve the crimes.
It's interesting that in each book of this series that I have so far read the central crime is related back to the victim's wartime experience or somehow connected to France's wars. I wonder if these wars continue to be omnipresent in the minds of French citizens in the twenty-first century. But then we know that the past is never dead; it isn't even past.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars