Reviewer Wally Wood: Wally is an editor and writer, has published three novels, Getting Oriented:A Novel about Japan, The Girl in the Photo an Death in a Family Business. He obtained his MA in creative writing in 2002 from the City University of New York and has worked with a number of authors as a ghostwriter and collaborator.
With an extensive background in a variety of business subjects, his credits include twenty-one nonfiction books. He spent twenty-five years as a trade magazine reporter and editor and has been a volunteer writing and business teacher in state and federal prisons for more than twenty years. He has finished his fourth novel and has translated a collection of Japanese short stories into English.
Author: Martin Walker
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Martin Walker is an interesting guy to be writing mysteries. He's the Senior Director of the Global Business Policy Council at A.T. Kearney, the management consulting firm. Membership in the Council is by invitation-only and the symposium is closed-door. Members include academic, corporate, and government thought leaders, who meet annually to discuss issues that affect the worldwide business climate.
He spent 28 years on the staff of The Guardian newspaper, working as bureau chief in Moscow and the US, European editor, and assistant editor. Passed over as editor in 1999, he jointed United Press International, is now editor-in-chief emeritus of UPI. He's a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, senior fellow of the World Policy Institute at The New School in New York, and a member of the board of directors of the Global Panel Foundation. Born in 1947, he and his wife have a holiday home in the Périgord region of France—truffle country.
And that's where Black Diamond, the third mystery featuring Benoit "Bruno" Courréges is set. Bruno is the police authority in the town of St. Denis, which is on the Dordogne River. There seems to be a problem in the truffle market in nearby Ste. Alvère, and Bruno is asked to investigate.
Black Diamond, which is one way to describe a good-size truffle, is an interestingly complex novel. Although it is set in contemporary rural France, the country's colonial history in French Indo-China and Algeria pokes its nasty nose into present-day affairs. And when Hercule Vendrot, Bruno's elderly friend, hunting companion, former secret agent in Vietnam and Algeria is found brutally murdered in the forest, that history has invaded Bruno's patch.
Bruno is an interesting cop. He's a gourmet cook (don't read this book if you're hungry), still plays rugby, and is former soldier who was wounded on a peacekeeping mission in the Balkans. He's had an affair with a policewoman who's moved on to bigger things in Paris, and he has a relationship with an English woman who lives in St. Denis. He never carries his official pistol and "has long since lost the key to his handcuffs," but he also has good relations with the larger police organizations and knows the neighborhood and the people.
Given Walker's background, the book feels unusually rich. We learn not only about truffles—how they are found, graded, and marketed—but France's current challenge of illegal Chinese immigrants, friction between the Chinese and Vietnamese, and—not the least—what ordinary life in a French town is usually like.
Black Diamond satisfies my three criteria for a decent mystery: an engaging protagonist/detective, a convincing setting, and a plausible murderer. I'm going back to the first two Bruno mysteries in the series.