The Winemaker Detective
Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen
Le French Book, December 2015
Omnibus with three novellas
One could review this volume in toto or as three separate stories about the same characters, master wine-maker Benjamin Cooker and his relatively untrained assistant, Virgile Lanssien. Untrained in the arcane arts of wine-making though Virgile may be, his powers of observation are unparalleled and his knowledge of winemaking increases as the book progresses. Together, the pair are an unbeatable team of amateur detectives. This omnibus of three stories is part of a series which is enjoying popularity in France, particularly among wine aficionados and those of elevated gastronomical tastes. The series includes a popular television programme.
Each story is set in an important region of French winemaking and involves usually complicated thievery, odd chicanery and of course, murder. The stories are dense, deliberate in their pace and action, and largely consist of detailed and intriguing observations of wine making, breakfasts and dinners and keenly observed travels.
These are the rare kind of genre novels one reads for the qualities of the writing, the content and not so much for action or complex plot lines. Exceptional quality, especially since the stories are translations, satisfying solutions, and much elegant descriptive writing devoted to character and the grape.