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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: "Winemaker Detective' series

Treachery in Bordeaux
Nightmare in Burgundy
Deadly Tasting
(Winemaker Detective novels)
By Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen
Crime fiction (French series)
2012-2014 (English translations)
Le French Book
ISBNs: Treachery: 9780985320621
Nightmare: 9781939474285
Deadly: 9781939474223

Benjamin Cooker is a winemaker in this French detective series, consulting with vineyard owners and wineries, dispensing his opinion in a popular guidebook and serving on wine juries. It's a good life for this half-British, half-French lover of good wine, food and cigars. But just like Jessica Fletcher or any number of cozy amateur detectives, he doesn't go looking for murder. It finds him.

The series begins with Treachery in Bordeaux, in which wine in three vats of one of his longest friends has gone bad. Since the distraught man owns one of the last wine estates remaining within the city limits of Bordeaux, its prestige needs to be protected. He needs someone to look into things quietly, not with a splash. And that's just what Cooker does. Along the way, he acquires an assistant, indulges his love of art and local lore, and discovers what happened to the wine and why. As a series introduction, it's a breezy read with a very interesting motive behind the crimes that occur.

Nightmare in Burgundy, published in trade paperback on July 31, finds Cooker and assistant Virgile travel to that other renowned French winemaking region. Our hero is inducted into a highly honorable organization that celebrates the fruits of the grape. Odd graffiti is discovered in various places around town. Cooker realizes the writing is in Latin. An old friend, an aging monk, helps him find the Biblical verses that correspond. And Virgile is adept at enchanting at least one local young woman.

When disgust at the graffiti leads to death, Cooker is the one to put the pieces together. The plot is wrapped up very quickly in this short novel, but its conclusion brings to mind a classic mystery. As with the debut novel, all the pieces fit together smoothly.

Deadly Tasting
, the fourth book in the series, requires Cooker's expertise when an elderly man is found dead and, in his humble abode, are 12 wine glasses with only one filled. What wine is it and how might that be pertinent to the crime? Then another body is found, and another. Cooker has to put the pieces together before the circle is completed. Again, the motive of what's going on is clever and, as with the other two mysteries, the clues have a lot to do with France and French winemaking.

The novels are very quick books to read. On occasion, there are things that don't fit into such a light premise, as some crime scenes that are more gory than usual in cozy mysteries and jarring vulgar language that is thrown in when many other alternatives are available. It's not that crime fiction should -- and hardly does -- shy from such things. But they do stand out in what are otherwise light, cozy reads.

Although people who know France and French wine will more fully recognize the lists of names that are used in the books and what they mean, those who appreciate gastronomic delights will enjoy this aspect of the series. The French lore and history are especially enjoyable aspects.

The series has been adapted to French television and, based on these three entries, shows the potential for many stories.

©2014 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted by permission

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