Friday, January 28, 2011

Review of Black Diamond by Martin Walker (Quercus, 2010)

In the Perigord region of France, Captain Bruno Courreges keeps the peace in the small town of St Denis. Tension is high in the town with the forced closing of the saw mill due to a rivalry between father and son, there are reports that a scam is operating in the local truffle market, and a tit-for-tat war between Chinese and Vietnamese food vendors has broken out. Not long after Courreges starts to investigate the latter two crimes, one of his close friends, Hercule is found brutally murdered. Hercule has a shady past in the French foreign service and his death attracts the attention of specialist services in Paris. As the feud between father and son, and the Chinese and Vietnamese escalates, Courreges tries to solve the murder and dissipate the building tension.

It took me a while to warm to Black Diamond, and even then my interest waxed and waned as I progressed through the story. What saved the novel from the did not finish pile was the character of Captain Bruno Courreges and the contextual framing with respect to France’s bloody colonial exits from Vietnam and Algeria. Courreges is a complex, multi-layered character who’s likeable and enjoyable company. Where I struggled with the book was the somewhat lifeless prose – though occasionally it sparks into life, especially around scenes with food – the uneven pacing, with several pages devoted to relatively inconsequential events and other scenes dealt with quite quickly, and especially the dialogue which is wooden and formal, with all characters speaking through the same voice. The plot is relatively straightforward and became more interesting as the story unfolded. Overall, a book with some merits – especially the character of Courreges, but the unevenness of the prose and pacing, and the weak dialogue, let the reading experience down for me. That said, it has some very good reviews elsewhere, for example, this review in the Independent.

3 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful candor. I think I'll probably wait on this one...

petronatwo said...

Interesting points, Rob. I very much liked the first in the series (against expectations) but simply could not finish this one - I gave it up half way through as I simply could not maintain interest in it. What was charming about the first had run its course by the second, I felt.
Best wishes
Maxine.

petronatwo said...

Actually, apologies, I have not read this one - it was the second in the series, The Dark Vineyard, that I gave up on after all that grape trampling, vineyard selling, etc. I shan't be reading this one, either. I agree the character of Bruno is the best thing about the books - at least as far as I read.