TAINTED VINTAGE by Clare Blanchard - a review
In the small Czech town of Vinice the mayor has been found dead in his wine cellar.
Detectives Jana Dvorska and Ivan Dambersky are called to the scene and soon realise that despite appearances, Mayor Slansky’s death was most definitely not from natural causes.
Almost immediately, the close-knit community closes ranks to try and brush the unexplained death under the carpet with the minimum of fuss.
Dvorska & Dambersky are drawn deeper and deeper into secrets that many hoped would remain buried forever and they’re forced into pursuing an investigation where their own lives are put in danger.
The Tainted Vintage is the first book in a wonderful new series set in and around The Czech Republic, an area rich in history, literature and culture that still remains largely unexplored by contemporary crime fiction fans.
“The body would have to be in a cellar, wouldn’t it?” Jana Dvorska muttered.
She was claustrophobic. She found the entrance to the Mayor’s wine cellar beneath his four-storey house on the town square of Vinice in Moravia. The terracotta brickwork on either side of the steps was neat and precise, just as she remembered the victim himself. Dvorska caught the heady, sickly-sweet whiff of fermenting wine wafting up the steps towards her.
She was asthmatic, as well as claustrophobic.
I loved this book. Rarely have a read a book so atmospheric, written in a voice so understated and intelligent, yet so unrelentingly real.
Yep, it starts with a body in the cellar - always a cracking opener - a body that just happens to be the local mayor, his secrets dying with him. Or so he thought. Detectives Jana Dvorska and Ivan Dambersky are on the case, and quickly discover it is not a case everyone wants to remain open for too long.
Here is the scene where Dvorska realises the position herself and Dambersky have been put in:
He might have suffered a heart attack, just as Dr. Nemec had said, but his death had been anything but natural. Now, her assignment to the case, along with that sleazebag Dambersky, was beginning to make sense. Someone up the food chain had decided to let her and Dambo either do such a sloppy investigation that the real cause of Slansky’s death would never come to light - or discover something they weren’t supposed to and then get chewed up by the machinery. Genius actually. But at her and Dambo’s expense.
Dvorska and Dambersky are a fantastic creation. Dvorska - brilliant, tenacious, serious and intense, almost without humour or anything of interest outside of her job - Dambersky - on the outside the normal cliche of a shambolic cop past his prime, but do not be deceived by that like I was. Indeed, so deceived was I that when something occurred about a third of the way through the book, I literally had to stop reading, and whisper 'No!' into the ether. A brilliant twist that completely floored me.
One of the very best aspects of this novel is the setting. I have never read anything set in the Czech Republic. Blanchard portrays small town Czech life in such colour and realism, it almost felt as if every time I picked up the novel I was setting foot into the town square. So brilliantly done.
The Tainted Vintage will be loved by anyone who adores intelligent detective fiction written in an unpretentious style.
Can't wait for the next one :)
The Tainted Vintage is available direct from Fahrenheit Press here in both Kindle and Paperback editions.