There surely can have been no better place to come across a copy of The Dark Vineyard than on a book shelf in a Dordogne house with spectaculars view of the nearby bastide town and the glorious French countryside.
And the timing was equally good. After a Peregordine lunch and a couple of glasses of the excellent Jaubertie rosé, what better way to spend the afternoon than immersed in a mystery novel set around the nearby Dordgogne vineyards.
And what a good novel it was. Martin Walker, a former Guardian journalist who splits his time between a Washington DC-based think tank and the Dordogne, has captured something of the essence of the life in south-west France that has attracted so many British ex-pats, and woven it into a charming and satisfying mystery novel.
The Dark Vineyard is the second in a series of novels featuring Bruno Courreges, veteran of the French army's Bosnian campaign and the chief of police of St Denis. Chief of police is a grand title given the police department of St Denis is comprised of a single officer, but does reflect Bruno's status in the village and his skills as an enterprising detective.
He is called into action in this instance when a local GMO research station has its crops destroyed in an arson attack. The incident comes at a pivotal moment for St Denis as its mayor explores the possibility of a partnership with a major US wine group that would guarantee future employment and help tourism in the town. It also attracts the attention of the state Intelligence apparatus in Paris and Bruno quickly finds himself at the heart of a major investigation. And as the young and wealthy American CEO arrives in town, feathers are ruffled and passions raised and the usually quiet town of St Denis is awash with intrigue and incident.
The Dark Vineyard is full of enjoyable characters who stay the right side of caricature and languid and elegant writing that takes fascinating excursions into the worlds of wine, agriculture and local politics. Bruno is a fine host, a rounded man of intelligence and sensitivity and he carries a good story well.
I hadn't come across Walker and Bruno until my lucky find in the Dordogne, but I'll be seeking out the rest of this series soon.