Death in the Truffle Wood, by Pierre Magnan. Published in 2007 by St. Martin's. Fiction. Crime Fiction. Translated from the French.
I got a galley of Death in the Truffle Wood at the 2007 annual conference of the American Library Association; it was one of several advance-reader copies I picked up on the exhibit hall floor and then left in a pile. Trouble is, I don't really read mysteries, but I couldn't resist the premise- black humor in Provence, peppered with truffles, scandal, and murder.
Starring Magnan regular Commissaire Laviolette, it's a fun book. Laviolette is a (typically?) dry investigator; he arrives in the small village of Banon to investigate a series of unusual disappearances which are quickly revealed to be a series of unusual murders. Actually there are two sets of murders, and two murderers, but one of the murderers is known and the suspense lies in whether this individual will get caught. Banon seemed like a pretty typical French country town- a little isolated, a little inbred, and very, very old. The characters are divided between indistinguishable townies and a few principals who dominate the action- Laviolette (of course), truffle farmer Alyre Morelon, his unfaithful, jewelry-loving wife Francine and his treasured truffle-sniffing sow Roseline, buxom innkeeper Rosemonde and Lavoisette's friend Bredes. Clues are scattered throughout like the truffles in Alyre's woods, and you don't need to be Roseline to sniff them out.
The tone of the book is dominated by a kind of blasé black humor. Roseline's travails are an important part of the plot and the murders, while somewhat gruesome, have a comic aspect as well, especially the where-and-when of the discovery of the first body. There is some real suspense as the net closes around the killers although the action lagged now and then. Magnan includes a lot of great descriptions of the local color- the food, customs and geography of Banon are described with affection and attention to detail. Overall it's a fun, entertaining light read. If I ever have time I'd love to read more of Commissaire Laviolette's adventures outside the Truffle Wood too.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.