Monday, November 7, 2016

Review of "The Dark Vineyard" by Martin Walker

Police Chief Bruno Correges of Saint-Denis, France is on the spot when a fire destroys a field of genetically modified crops (GMOs) and a nearby barn - which unexpectedly contains a batch of office equipment. Bruno becomes suspicious of the local ecolos (green party members), who vehemently oppose GMOs. He questions Alphonse, the elderly, hippie leader of the "greens' and his foster son Max, a handsome young man who works for a local wine maker and hopes to become a vintner himself. Alphonse and Max claim to know nothing about the fire. Bruno isn't convinced but he has no proof and is reluctant to accuse the locals because of his love for Saint-Denis and its people.

To heighten the mystery, the burned GMO field is owned by a shadowy corporation called Agricolae that did not have the proper permits to grow the crops. The national police arrive to look into the arson, including Bruno's old flame Isabelle, a detective who recently moved to Paris. There's angst between Bruno and Isabelle because she wants big city opportunities while Bruno is determined to remain in Saint-Denis.

Meanwhile a partnership of foreign wine makers - led by Monsieur Dupuy and Fernando Bondino - arrive in Saint-Denis with an offer to take over the local vineyards. This foreign syndicate plans to use cutting edge techniques to make wine, attract tourists, run hotels, and so on. To add to the goings on, a beautiful Canadian girl named Jacqueline - also a wine expert - takes a job with a local wine maker and has liasions with Max and Fernando.

Before long there are physcial fights over Jacqueline and two peculiar deaths, all of which engages Bruno's attention. Bruno is also concerned that the foreign wine syndicate will harm Saint-Denis, unlike the mayor - who thinks they're a great idea. In between investigating the arson, looking into the peculiar deaths, and trying to derail the wine syndicate Bruno engages in romance, has a fabulous barbecue, and hobnobs with an interesting array of friends/acquaintances - including an old friend who's dying of cancer.

Much of the charm of this series is the ambiance of the French countryside, which is on vivid dsplay once more in this story. All in all this is an enjoyable mystery with engaging characters, an interesting (if not totally realistic) plot, and a satisfying climax that ties everything together. An entertaining light read.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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