Black Diamond, by Martin Walker, is the third novel in a series of deceptively quiet mysteries taking place in the Perigord region of France. The scene is St. Denis, a small town where Chief of Police Bruno Courrèges is actually the only member of their rural police department. The series has many strengths, first among which is a deep sense of place. As a reader, you really feel that you are in St. Denis. This feat is perhaps the more remarkable given the Walker’s cosmopolitan background: his long résumé starts out with several decades in England, moves to Moscow, and ends up being split between Washington, DC, and the Perigord region of France. Somewhere along the line he did graduate work at Harvard. But it’s his time in the Perigord that informs this series of novels. We’re talking of something resembling an Agatha Christie-like ambiance — an extreme contrast to, say, Denise Mina, whom I reviewed a week ago.
I won’t mention any names, but some readers object to Walker’s politics, especially as seen in Black Diamond. He is not particularly kind to the Green Party, though his satire falls equally on conservative industrialists. In any case, I don’t read mystery writers for their politics; the nature of the genre is such that there are inevitably many writers with whom I will disagree politically. If you’re an ardent environmentalist and don’t want to read fiction that calls your views into question, then this book is not for you. Otherwise, do read it — but you might want to start with the first two in the series: Bruno Chief of Police and The Dark Vineyard.
The next book in the series, A Crowded Grave, was published five months ago in the U.K. but won’t be published here until July. I look forward to it.
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