Monday, July 28, 2014

BLACK DIAMOND by Martin Walker...excellent third mystery

BLACK DIAMOND (Bruno, Chief of Police #3)

Alfred A. Knopf
$16.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: The third installment in Martin Walker's delightful, internationally acclaimed series featuring Chief of Police Bruno.

Something dangerous is afoot in St. Denis. In the space of a few weeks, the normally sleepy village sees attacks on Vietnamese vendors, arson at a local Asian restaurant, subpar truffles from China smuggled into outgoing shipments at a nearby market—all of it threatening the Dordogne’s truffle trade, worth millions of dollars each year, and all of it spelling trouble for Benoît “Bruno” Courrèges, master chef, devoted oenophile, and, most important, beloved chief of police. When one of his hunting partners, a noted truffle expert, is murdered, Bruno’s investigation into the murky events unfolding around St. Denis becomes infinitely more complicated. His friend wasn’t just a connoisseur of French delicacies, he was a former high-profile intelligence agent—and someone wanted him dead.

As the strange crimes continue, Bruno’s detective work takes him from sunlit markets to dim cafés, from luxurious feasts to tense negotiations—from all of the paradisial pleasures of the region to its shadowy underworld—and reunites him with a lost love, an ambitious policewoman also assigned to the case. Filled with an abundance of food and wine (including, bien sûr, many, many truffles) and a soupçon of romance, Black Diamond is a deliciously entertaining concoction that delivers all the complexity and delights of the Dordogne itself.

My Review: I'd like to be clear about one thing up front: No one pays me to write my reviews, and I got no free copy of this book to review it. Save your nastygrams.

What I did get from this third outing in the Bruno, Chief of Police, series was a serious jones for truffes cendrillons (or cendrées, as I knew the dish), the coal-baked tarts filled with truffled foie gras that are outstandingly rich and almost incredibly expensive. They're also the only way I actually *like* truffles.

*pause for near-lethal drooling*

So. Anyway. Truffles are obscenely expensive fungi, and the Périgord (where fictional St-Denis is located) is one of Earth's best places to find the highest quality variety of them. Naturally, this being a Bruno story, the initial push into crime and dishonesty comes from shenanigans at the truffle market. Naturally, this being a Bruno story, the malfeasance and wrong-doing stretch farther and wider than that. Naturally, this being a Bruno story, there is loving and glorious detail lavished upon the preparation and eating of meals. A very great deal less attention is paid to Bruno's rugby-playing, fire-fighting physique in action amoureuse.

I'm down with that. Sex I can get anywhere. A series of mysteries where Pomerol *drool* is fleetingly mentioned and Dom Pérignon is casually served at a public function (!!!), where the meals listen, I don't need to belabor this, it's effin' para-bloody-dise that Walker's describing. A hot rugby-playing 40-year-old cop who can cook and knows his wines. Yes please.

By the end of this entry in the series, it's clear that our lad is as always the bestest Boy Scout in all France and he's got not a single problem with doing the Right Thing even if it's political suicide, even when it costs him dearly and personally, and then refusing to dodge, bob, and weave when shady souls want him to trim his sails expediently.

For this very reason, Bruno ends this installment with a vastly better material life, and a very greatly enlarged circle of influence. Hobnobbing with royalty, even minor royalty, grants a man access to things previously not available. Very useful in a sleuth's development; and as done by Walker in this book, perfectly logical and in fact sort of inevitable.

I'll cut to the chase: For a series-mystery fan, this procedural-cum-cozy-via-thriller series is catnip and should not be resisted. For a foodie, it's madness to pass up. For one who fancies gentlemen of a certain interesting age, it's damn near mandatory reading. (My Gentleman Caller has a serious book-crush on Bruno, for example. I'm not jealous it says here because so do I.) And if wine interests you, for heavens' sake go NOW and buy them all!

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