The Dark Vineyard
Knopf, Jul 27 2010, $23.95
In the French countryside overlooking Saint Denis, ruffians assault and set on fire a secret agricultural research station studying genetically enhanced crops. Chief of Police Benoit “Bruno” Courreges, the only cop in the rural village, investigates the arson. His prime suspects are eco-terrorist environmentalists.
At the same time, American winemaker Fernando Bondino is in the area considering the possibility of investing in the fertile land at a time when the local economy is in an empty vat. However, Fernando’s aggressive behavior has alienated many of the villagers especially when he brawled with local environmentalist-winemaker Max Vannes over Jacqueline, a Canadian visitor. When Max and his adopted father winemaker Francois Cresseil are found murdered, everyone suspects the American. As Bruno makes inquiries, the mayor warns him not to alienate the prime suspect.
The sequel to Bruno, Chief of Police is a terrific French village police procedural as the Chief investigates an apparent arson, two murders, and several visitors including one from the other side of the Channel who he is attracted to while also tasting quality wine. Ironically, one of the worst crimes is dropping a bottle of ’82 worth quite a few euros. The whodunit is cleverly designed, but much of the enjoyment comes from those in power like the mayor who warn Bruno not to drive an investor away with his persistent investigation. Readers will toast Martin Walker for a fine mystery.