Featuring mysteries with a French flair
The Winemaker Detective: An Omnibus — Treachery in Bordeaux, Grand Cru Heist and Nightmare in Burgundy by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen.
The Winemaker Detective: An Omnibus introduces a master winemaker and his assistant, an unlikely pair of detectives, in an amusing series that shines like a rich Bordeaux with a style that could be called continental cosy.
Benjamin Cooker, the French-English master winemaker, and his assistant, the virile Virgile, manage to solve murder as well as mayhem in the world of wine. The three novellas – Treachery in Bordeaux, Grand Cru Heist and Nightmare in Burgundy – each combine a satisfying mystery with an ample serving of French culture and especially French viniculture.
For some, the stories may start a bit slow . . . more like traditional British mysteries of a bygone era. I didn’t mind. For others, the technical details may be distracting. Again, I didn’t mind – I quite enjoyed learning more about wines, vineyards and vintages, and other aspects of French culture and the French countryside. I’m no oenophile – I’ve been known to drink pink wine out of a box and to purchase bottles with screwcaps – but such a background is happily not needed. Especially with an e-reader, which makes it easy to take a brief detour into the exact definition of grand cru or Haut-Brion without losing the threads of the story or stories.
Indeed, one of the pleasures of the series is learning more about the French countryside in general and the wine regions in particular – a vacation in a volume (or two, or three).
The contrast of Cooker, a man of integrity as well as a man of faith, with his assistant, Virgile, an agnostic and a bit of a lady’s man, lends strength to the series.
But, readers should take warning that the series isn’t strictly cosy: The stories include a spattering of vulgar language and one fairly explicit (but by no means pornographic) sexual scene – on the whole, tame in both respects. That’s why I called it continental cosy. (And, yes, given the setting, I’m opting for the British spelling here.)
In Treachery in Bordeaux, barrels at the prestigious grand cru Moniales Haut-Brion wine estate in Bordeaux have been contaminated. Is it negligence or sabotage? In Grand Cru Heist, Benjamin Cooker’s world gets turned upside down one night in Paris with a carjacking. He retreats to the region around Tours to recover, where he and his assistant Virgile turn PI to solve two murders and an unusual theft. In Nightmare in Burgundy, a dream wine-tasting trip to Burgundy turns into a troubling nightmare when Cooker and his assistant stumble upon a mystery revolving around messages from another era.
NOTE: Sis received an advanced reading copy from Le French Book via NetGalley in exchange for an independent and unbiased review. Sis has as much integrity as Benjamin Cooker and would never offer less.
Also in this series:
Deadly Tasting – a serial killer stalks Bordeaux. To understand the wine-related symbolism, the local police call on the famous wine critic Benjamin Cooker. The investigation leads them to the dark hours of France’s history, as the mystery thickens among the once-peaceful vineyards of Pomerol.
Cognac Conspiracies – the heirs to one of the oldest Cognac estates in France face a hostile takeover by foreign investors. Renowned wine expert Benjamin Cooker is called in to audit the books. In what he thought was a sleepy provincial town, he and his assistant, Virgile, have their loyalties tested.
About the authors: Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen came up with the winemaker detective over a glass of wine, of course. Alaux is a magazine, radio, and television journalist when he is not writing novels in southwestern France. The grandson of a winemaker, he has a passion for food, wine, and winemaking. For him, there is no greater common denominator than wine. Noël Balen lives in Paris, where he writes, makes records, and lectures on music. He plays bass, is a music critic, and has written a number of books about musicians, as well as many novels and short stories.
The three stories in this omnibus were translated by Anne Trager, who founded Le French Book to introduce books she enjoyed to a broader audience, and Sally Pane. “If we love it, we translate it” is the company’s motto.