Now I, too, would like to run away to wine country in Périgord, France. What more could you want than foie gras, truffles, and the wines of the region, bergerac and monbazillac? And a little non-threatening mystery, perhaps.
This is the follow-up to Martin Walker's first book, Bruno, Chief of Police. (I love a title that plainly says it all.) Bruno Courrèges is in fact the chief of police of the little town of Saint-Denis. It is populated by good souls, some of whom are eccentric, all of whom seem to enjoy a good glass of un vin rouge simple.
Walker is a writer of mostly books and articles about global business concerns and other non-fiction topics. It is obvious, however, from reading The Dark Vineyard that his knowledge of this region of France runs deep enough to give his book an authentic-sounding twang. His business background gives the book its main storyline.
A mega-wine company from the U.S. is trying to buy large tracts of land in Saint-Denis to produce more of its uniform corporate wine. This would bring more jobs and money to the region, so Bruno and the mayor play host to the son of the current CEO. In the meantime, an arsonist sets fire to a field where experimental crops are being grown. It turns out the crops were genetically modified grape vines. Much, much, much later in the book, a dead body is discovered in a vat of wine. Are all or any of these things related? Of course they are. Walker does a credible job setting up the light mystery, but before the bad person(s) is discovered, every character is innocent and likable until proven guilty.
What a salad of characters Walker tosses at us: Albert, Cpt. Duros, Jules, Ahmed, Fabien, Gérard, Philippe, Stéphane, Dominique, the Baron, Pamela, Claire, J.J., Isabelle, Alphonse, Fauquet, Gustave, Hubert, Cresseil, Nathalie, Baptiste, M. d'Alambert, Hector, Jacqueline, Max, Rollo, Xavier, and on and on. I actually had to keep notes because there were so many names, and who knew which ones would prove to be important later. Then, too, I had not read the first book, which probably introduced many of the characters. Most authors know to reintroduce, however quickly, standing characters. Walker does it for some of the people but not all. It sometimes isn't until pages or chapters later that a character's place in Saint-Denis is explained. I strongly suggest you, too, take notes. (Note: I was reading an "ARC," an advanced reading copy. Sometimes editing corrects deficits, so perhaps the final version is a little clearer. If so, I apologize. But still, take notes.)
Bruno is quite likable. (But, as previously said, aren't they all?) I tremendously enjoyed the description of the food and wine of the region. I truly want to believe the French in Périgord are as good-hearted and community-minded as they are in Walker's book. This book is ... likable.