Series: Bruno Chief of Police #2
Published by Vintage on June 29, 2010
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Benoît (Bruno) Courrèges - devoted friend, cuisinier extraordinaire and the town's only municipal policeman - rushes to the scene when a research station for genetically modified crops is burned down outside Saint-Denis. Bruno immediately suspects a group of fervent environmentalists who live nearby, but the fire is only the first in a string of mysteries centering on the region's fertile soil.
Then a bevy of winemakers descends on Saint-Denis, competing for its land and spurring resentment among the villagers. Romances blossom. Hearts are broken. Some of the sensual pleasures of the town - a dinner of a truffle omelette and grilled bécasses, a community grape-crushing - provide an opportunity for both warm friendship and bitter hostilities to form. The town's rivals - Max, an environmentalist who hopes to make organic wine; Jacqueline, a flirtatious, newly arrived Québécoise; and Fernando, the heir to an American wine fortune - act increasingly erratically. Events grow ever darker, culminating in two suspicious deaths, and Bruno finds that the problems of the present are never far from those of the past.
I picked up The Dark Vineyard not long after finishing the first in the Bruno, Chief of Police series. The town of Saint-Denis and the people are just so wonderful, and I’m glad this second in the series was just as good as the first. This time around, Bruno is investigating an arson at a GMO-research facility, a fire that destroyed crops and burned a shed to the ground.
At the same time, an American is in town thinking about developing a large wine tourism center in the district. While it would bring jobs, Bruno is worried that it would also change his town. But the Mayor seems to be behind the scheme. Then the two bodies are found, and it becomes (maybe) a case of murder. And who wants to invest in a town where arsons and murders occur?
The mystery itself was well-done. We follow Bruno as he talks to people and finds the clues that eventually lead to the solution. I thought the whodunnit was put together well; it made sense, but I only partly saw it coming.
While all this is happening, there are grapes to be harvested, good food and wine to be celebrated. This is one of those mysteries where people and place are almost more important than the plot itself, which I love. We see the politics and principles of the small town. We see the affection Bruno has for the townsfolk, even the ones who are a bit eccentric. We learn how he makes sure protests stay as peaceful as possible with the help of the local rugby team. We see the people of the town, each with ambitions and passions, but who care about each other.
The Dark Vineyard made me wish I knew more about wines and French cooking. Hmm, maybe that could be a project for me during this time of social distancing.
The setting and the story sound terrific.