Last month I read a really fun mystery that is outside of my element, but something about the words “France” and “Cognac” drew me in and made me curious! I always love a good foreign mystery. I hadn’t realized at first that it was a series, with the others featuring wine in their mysteries, or even that it’s a popular TV mystery series abroad! However, I can see how this would make a great French TV series, full of dramatic flair and a likable wine expert turned amateur detective named Benjamin Cooker and his side-kick, handsome and astute Virgile. Cognac Conspiracies is book five in what looks to be a twenty-part mystery series based on the television show.
It’s a pretty slim book, compared to novels that I generally read, so it doesn’t go too far in-depth with various outside plots, but rather, takes the reader on an interesting meandering ruse through the business world and history of cognac. During the reading, the mystery seeps slowly in, and though short on pages, it still had time for multiple twists and turns that kept me guessing. It did visualize as a television episode to me, which I loved. Some of the back story, as on TV, featured relations or issues in Cooker’s own life. As an American, I loved getting my fix for foreign TV through this book.
There is a good balance between character development, plot, and mystery, as well as dining with cognac, but from what I’ve heard of the other mysteries, I think there was a little less dining on delectable foods in this novel, but it did feature a few areas, so no worries!
The novel made up for this with its wonderful description of cognac, especially the various types of cognac and how they are made with herbs and flowers. I was pleasantly surprised by this practice, which reminded me of fragrance-making, and I could almost smell the various types of brandy and feel the liquor melt on my tongue; the details opened my senses. Cognac certainly held its own for me against the other wines featured in previous mysteries, as I am sure it does in its wine-making region as well, which was the area featured in this novel.
The authors really focused on grand descriptions of the river and village and countryside that were very lovely, as well as their character development of the supporting cast. They were smart, sly, conflicted, and quite often scandalous, which of course, make for good TV murder mysteries and follow through with the books as well. Anyone could have “who-done-it” and we feel suspicious of them all. There is an air of intrigue, deceit, and suspense that makes you anxious to the turn the pages.
This novel is an entertaining petite paperback, or a quick electronic read, and is just perfect for when you have a few hours during a train or airplane ride in which you wish to escape reality. Or maybe you need a free evening at home by the fireplace, glass in hand, in which to escape to the French countryside? I know I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of this series!
Read an excerpt!
“Pierre Lavoisier. Mr. Cooker, I presume?” Benjamin shook his hand and said, “This is my associate, Virgile Lanssien.”
The man, who appeared to be in his forties, adjusted his gold-rimmed glasses and gave the winemaker’s assistant a thorough look-over before moving his lips almost imperceptibly. It was difficult to tell whether he was smiling or brooding.“ Beauty is the promise of happiness, is it not?” “That’s exactly what Stendhal said,” replied Benjamin, always confident of his literary knowledge.
Pierre Lavoisier began to tremble ever so slightly, and sweat beads formed on his forehead. So, Benjamin thought, he didn’t know how to play this game. Arrogance was not his métier, much less pedantry.
“My sister will see you, if you will kindly wait here,” was all that he said before leaving. “Have a seat, please.”
“We’re not really tired,” Benjamin responded as he inspected a large lithograph of Jarnac in 1830.
The winemaker, a connoisseur of antiques and an occasional historian, reached for his glasses. With great interest, he examined this panoramic view of a former chateau, which had been sacrificed for a suspension bridge spanning the Charente River. On the embankments, imposing homes reflected the good fortune of their owners. Along the river’s edge, only a few trees dared totip their boughs, lest they hinder the passage ofthe barges. Benjamin took a few steps back to better appreciate it and then turned his attention to a family photo. He recognized Pierre, standing proudly next to a beautiful woman with blonde hair. Seated in front of them was an elderly man—presumably the patriarch. Off to one sidewas another man, whom Benjamin presumed was the infamous Claude-Henri.
“Strange, very strange,” Benjamin mumbled.
Virgile wasn’t paying much attention. He was busy staring out the window at this Pierre, who had undressed him with his eyes, like a slave trader.“There’s something suspicious about him.”
“What’s that, my boy?”
“I’m saying that he’s strange, too.”
The door opened, and Marie-France entered the room. She was wearing a pink silk suit that complemented her astonishingly radiant complexion.
Her wrists and neck were unadorned, butshe had several extravagant diamond, sapphire, and ruby rings on her fingers. Her handshake was firm and formal. Ms. Lavoisier knew how to holdher own.
“So, gentlemen, what can I do for you?”
Benjamin shot a glance at his assistant before tactfully and a bit solemnly explaining the assignment he had been given. He confessed that he had not met his client, Shiyi Cheng, in person.
“We have only exchanged correspondence,” the winemaker said, hoping to gain a semblance of consideration from Lavoisier. Her pale eyes were making him uneasy. “I believe your shareholder simply wishes to know the status of the accounts.”“I don’t have to tell you that there are certified public accountants for that, Mr. Cooker.”
She lashed out his name, and Benjamin could almost hear a whip cracking. Then her eyes fell on Virgile. She stared not at his face, but at his body, from sternum to crotch. Benjamin could feel his assistant’s embarrassment. Virgile crossed his legs and pulled himself straighter in his chair as she continued her indecent and perverse inspection. Benjamin tried to correct himself. “PerhapsI did not make myself clear, Ms. Lavoisier. Our assignment has more to do with how we can help the company evolve. We’re here to study the business. Cognac is going through difficult times. I hope, in the framework of this mission, you will consider us allies, rather than enemies.”
Jean-Pierre ALAUX and Noël BALEN
(cozy wine mystery)
Release date: February 18, 2015
at Le French Book
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. [provided by the publisher]
An episode in a long successful French mysteries series that is a hit television series now in its fourth season and attracting an audience of over 4 million. The series is a huge success in France, Belgium and Switzerland.
The authors of the Winemaker Detective 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 winemakerand exhibits a real passion for wine and wine making. 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 coauthors 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.
Translator Sally Pane, Biography~
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