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Monday, 9 March 2015

✍ Cognac Conspiracies: Winemaker Detective [5] - Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen

Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
Published by Le French Book
Number of pages: 148
Original Title: Le Dernier Coup de Jarnac: Le Sang de la Vigne [6]
Originally Published 6 October 2004
Translated by Sally Pane
My rating: ★ ★ ★  I liked it
About the authors

I would normally just provide the description for the particular item in question, however, on this occasion, I have decided to include three different bits of blurb provided by the publishers, as I think that they do give you a real feel of what the "Cognac Conspiracies" is all about.

Series description:
"Immerse yourself in French countryside and gourmet attitude with two amateur sleuths gumshoeing around French wine country.  The Winemaker Detective series delves into the underworld of a global luxury industry, where there’s money, deceit, death, crime, inheritance, jealousy—all the ingredients needed to distil a fine detective series!  That and a decent dose of Epicurean enjoyment of fine food and beverage.  It follows master winemaker Benjamin Cooker and his sidekick Virgile Lanssien in their adventures solving mysteries in vineyards throughout France and beyond.   Each book is a homage to wine and winemakers."


Title description:
"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 is stonewalled, crosses paths with his first love, and stands up to high-level state officials keen on controlling the buyout.   Meanwhile, irresistible Virgile mingles with the local population until a drowning changes the stakes."

There is an easy way to gage if this book is for you; what do you think of this excerpt from the publisher's blog? 

"the Winemaker Detective goes to Jarnac, an haut lieu of cognac production.  [...] the region of Cognac is divided into six zones—Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fins Bois, Bons Bois and Bois ordinaires.  A cognac blend made of Grande Champagne cognac and Petite Champagne cognac makes a Fine Champagne cognac.  Of course, the drink cognac, as Grande, Petite or Fine a Champagne it may be, has nothing in common with the sparkling wine.  Cognac is a brandy, distilled from wines made from specific grapes grown in specific areas of (primarily) the Charente and Charente-Maritime region of France. It goes through two distillations, in an alembic, and is aged in oak.  Now you know.
[...] Jean-Pierre tells me that he has a special soft spot for both cognac and armagnac, both of which he usually enjoys with a cigar.  As for cognac, he particularly enjoys those made by Delamain."


If you found it boring and could not care less about that kind of stuff - walk away now.  This book and series are not for you.

If you found it fascinating, stick around, as the strength of these tales lies in their insights into the wine-making industry and of the picturesque French country side.  In both cases the authors manage to paint a detailed picture that transports you right there where the action is unfolding: the sights, the smells, the tastes, the passion.

The Cognac Conspiracies is a stand-alone cosy-mystery which is part of the Winemaker Detective series, which suits itself to be read in one sitting, whilst sitting back and relaxing with a good drink, preferably in the great outdoors.

The language struck me immediately as more continental in its structure and choice of vocabulary, perhaps it does feel a little like a translation at the beginning, but I think that overall the translator did well to retain the original feel of the French language.

The story is well written and developed, its characters vivid, although some are explored better than others;  Virgile shone for me and I certainly hope to find out more about him in the other offerings in this series.  The plot isn't over complicated, with sudden twists, but it is full of intrigue and deceit, and it kept me turning pages and guessing who'd-done-it till the very end.

A very pleasant and enticing read, with a few epicurean suggestions.

[ARC received via Netgalley]

About the Authors

The authors of the Winemaker Detective Mystery series are Epicures.

Jean-Pierre Alaux is a magazine, radio and TV journalist when he is not writing novels in southwestern France. He is the grandson of a winemaker and exhibits a real passion for wine and winemaking. For him, there is no greater common denominator than wine. He gets a sparkle in his eye when he talks about the Winemaker Detective, which he co-authors with Noël Balen.

Noël lives in Paris, where he shares his time between writing, making records, and lecturing on music. He plays bass, is a music critic and has authored a number of books about musicians in addition to his novel and short-story writing.

Sally Pane's career includes more than twenty years of translating and teaching French and Italian at Berlitz and at Colorado University Boulder.  She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband.

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