Black Diamond
Martin Walker
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Buy *Black Diamond: A Mystery of the French Countryside* by Martin Walker online

Black Diamond: A Mystery of the French Countryside
Martin Walker
320 pages
August 2011
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Succulent details on French food and wine are probably the most notable attribute in Walker’s latest mystery, a recipe that turns into a rather staid story about truffle smuggling and Asian gangs that - as the novel opens - are terrorizing the market stalls in St. Denis. There’s darkness afoot, and Chief Bruno Courreges, the town’s police officer - who also happens to be a master chef and wine connoisseur - plays a rugby match as he tries to unravel the grisly murder of a friend.

Bruno has to spool back through years of history to France's colonial past, unfurling a complex tapestry of fraud. You certainly get a sense that an era is passing the timber industry that has sustained St. Denis for centuries. The closure of the town's sawmill is much more than simply a matter of lost jobs as a delegation from the town’s chamber of commerce surround the building.

Most unhappy at the triumph of the Green party, the current local leader of which is Guillaume Pons, the strangest creature in the drama. A long-lost son of St. Denis returning from years traveling the Far East, Pons has an evident interest in local politics, a passionate commitment to the green cause, and an eagerness to fund the anti-sawmill lawsuit that has caused him to become estranged from his wealthy and powerful father.

The real crime in Walker’s story is the murder of Bruno's friend Hercule, two perfect examples of famous black diamond truffles found on his body. The early investigation generates perplexing signs: Hercule had been worried about dirty goings-on at the truffle market in St. Alvere and the smuggling of cheap Chinese truffles, while the real black diamonds with their deep earthy scent are being threatened on the international marketplace.

Similar in tone and pace to the previous two novels in this series, Bruno shares the limelight with his two loyal muses, dark-haired Fabiola and Pamela, bronze and chestnut in the candlelight. There are also the glinting eyes of Didier and the question of whether he is an innocent man angered at unjust suspicion or a guilty one worried that his deception isn't working.

Amid rumors of military intelligence and counterespionage, Bruno’s head spins at the thought of all the vague, shadowy organizations where Asian gangs fight over illegal immigrants, gambling and loan sharking. Protection rackets are somehow connected to Hercule, who was a legend in the intelligence business with his special connection to Vietnam after his time there in the war.

The descriptions of French cuisine are mouth-watering, but Black Diamond suffers from an uneven narrative. Bruno is a likable character and he will achieve a measure of justice, but so much of his story isn’t that interesting. Walker’s fluid writing keeps getting better; it just doesn’t feel as though the themes of this novel are stimulating enough to sustain the convoluted plot.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2011

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