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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Trouble with Truffles: "Black Diamond" by Martin Walker is another fun book in the Bruno, Chief of Police, series.

Black Diamond is the third installment in Martin Walker's entertaining mystery series featuring Benoit "Bruno" Courreges.  Bruno is the police chief (and, in fact, the entire police force) in St. Denis, a small village in France.  In this outing with Bruno, there is so much going on that the plot almost defies summarization.  A key organizational point, however, is the truffle.

Truffles, the black diamonds of the title, are an important commodity in this region of France.  Bruno, Renaissance man that he is, hunts for the fabulous fungus with his dog, cooking with some of those that he finds and selling others in market at the neighboring village of Ste. Alvere.  But there's trouble in the truffle trade.

Bruno's friend and hunting partner, Hercule Vendrot, tells Bruno that big clients in Paris purchasing from the large Ste. Alvere truffle market are complaining that instead of receiving French Perigord truffles, they've been "fobbed off with fakes, cheap sinenis, Chinese black truffles."  Hercule fears that this scam could ultimately cause the French truffle market to collapse.

Although Ste. Alvere is outside of Bruno's jurisdiction, Bruno and Hercule implement a plan to have Bruno conduct a security audit of the truffle market.  Not long afterward, the elderly Hercule is found brutally murdered.  But this is not just a murder:  As a young man, Hercule had been a spy, active 'back in the day' in Viet Nam.

While Bruno investigates the crime and its potential national security implications, he is also busy investigating attacks occurring in St. Denis as a result of a gang battle between Chinese and Vietnamese groups, and keeping an eye on the forth coming local elections in which his boss, the Mayor, faces ouster when two local businessmen - a father and a son - both seek election to the post.  On top of all of this, there is Bruno's tangled love life.

This busy plot, running from matters of the heart, to truffles, and to modern-colonial history and current geo-political problems, somehow all works together.  Black Diamond is an enjoyable immersion into all things French (including a few swear words).  It is entertaining and a nice addition to this series.    

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