BLACK DIAMOND is the name of a truffle which, because of its rarity, seems to be almost as valuable as the jewel to the food obsessed in the Perigord region of France. Bruno Courreges is the representative of law and order in the village of Saint-Denis, a job he loves most of the time. Bruno has devoted himself to becoming a friend to the people of the town and the surrounding area, learning of their concerns and working to stave off emerging issues that can upset the balance of Saint-Denis but their are some things he can’t anticipate.
BLACK DIAMOND opens with a demonstration on a beautiful day in November. Boniface Pons, the owner of the sawmill which employees a considerable number of men from the area, is closing it down because he and the Green party can’t reach a compromise on a new environmental law. Pons is moving one town away, opening a new mill, and hiring new people. The demonstration that has the Greens and the displaced workers facing off becomes, as it is inevitable, a violent confrontation. Bill Pons is not an easy man to deal with and he holds the upper hand – employment in an area that is suffering from the same economic disaster as the rest of the world.
Bruno has developed close friendships with two older men in the town, the baron and his close friend Hercule Vendrot. These two men had met when both were in the French army in Algeria during that war of independence in the 1950’s. Bruno and Hercule cemented their friendship over wine and the hunt, both for game and for the truffles that bring a great deal of money into the Perigord each winter. There is a market in Saint-Denis where the truffles are sold at auction to local restaurants and to those in Paris. Hercule is convinced that there is fraud involved in the sales, bits and pieces of inferior mushrooms being substituted for the smaller truffles before they boxes are sealed and sent off to the purchasers. No one will listen to Hercule’s concerns but Bruno understands that if the fraud becomes widespread it could spell the end of the lucrative business that is based on the superior quality of the Perigord truffles.
The next bit of unsettling business in Saint-Denis occurs when Vinh’s market is destroyed in the middle of the day by a gang of Chinese. Vinh was born in Saint-Denis. He and his family are a vital part of the fabric of the town and the community is furious when they realize that the Vinh has taken his family and disappeared.
The final, and most devastating of the incidents to attack Saint-Denis, is the murder of one of Bruno’s hunting partners. It is this death, sad in its own right, that opens the floodgates to a past no one wants to revisit. Vinh is not the only Vietnamese to be attacked in the region. As the families who have been valued members of the communities for years leave in fear, businesses in larger areas that are owned by Chinese are being destroyed by underworld Chinese gangs. Supermarkets are being taken over so that the local Asian mafia can fix prices and undermine the families in the Perigord.
When Bruno discovers that his murdered friend was once a member of the French Secret Service in Vietnam before the war with the Americans, he is thrown off base by the revelation that his friend was a high level spy. The tragedy of Vietnam is inserting itself into France fifty years after the French withdrew from southeast Asia.
And, as a small aside to Bruno’s concerns, the mayor is running a tight campaign for re-election against Bill Pons. If the mayor loses, Bruno will almost certainly be assigned to an area far from Saint-Denis. Oh, he also has three women competing for his affections.
Martin Walker writes perfect little mysteries, little only in the sense that everything, characters, action, motive, and solution occur within the community that Bruno knows so well. There are three books in the series, each equally enjoyable as entertainment and satisfying as mysteries. Bruno (real name Benoit)is one of the most appealing characters in mystery fiction and each book is a treat.