Book Review: Cognac Conspiracies by Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noël Balen

Posted March 2, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 4 Comments

Book Review: Cognac Conspiracies by Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noël Balen

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Cognac Conspiracies by Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen
Genres: Amateur Sleuth, Mystery
Published by Le French Book on March 6, 2015
Pages: 140
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley


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.

Also by this author: Nightmare in Burgundy, Deadly Tasting

Fifth in the Winemaker Detective Mysteries series and revolving around a wine taster and his assistant.

This ARC was provided by NetGalley and Le French Book in exchange for an honest review.

My Take

It didn’t make any sense when I read it, so why do Alaux/Balen even bring up “auditing the books” when this isn’t what Cooker will be doing? That or explain how looking at the books will further the purpose for which the Chinese have hired him.

I’m coming to realize that French writers don’t do show, which surprises me. I’ve always thought the French were all about the emotions. The fragrance, the taste, the love, and instead, it’s all about the tell. In this respect Alaux/Balen do provide lots of detail. And the writing still has a juvenile feel and is so heavy-handed. I don’t know if it’s the original writing or the translation. I do wish they kept in more French phrases and words to retain the flavor of being a book about the French.

I loved the sound of Pierre’s “sacristy” and his greenhouse. The nose that man had for scent, fragrance…the idea of living in a greenhouse…sigh… That eau-de-vie library also sounds lovely.

This sister-brother pair are such children! I do not like them. After being so hostile, why is Pierre suddenly so friendly with Virgile? I suspect we’re supposed to infer that Pierre is gay, and it’s an excellent example of Alaux/Balen’s heavyhanded vagueness. They do like to make a reader work.

Okay, yeah, it’s a nice touch that Benjamin plans to resign this commission, but I don’t understand why. There are vague insinuations that the job is unsavory, but Alaux/Balen don’t provide reasons that make me believe it. It’s written therefore it is.

Oh, please, why would people believe that Charles-Henri would come to the funeral, especially if Marie-France has no idea how to contact him? I don’t believe that the Church or the police or the family would wait around for weeks before having the funeral. Nor would Virgile and Benjamin hang around the winery for weeks. And it certainly sounds as if the funeral takes place within the week. So how would anyone expect someone to find out about the funeral and get there in time?

Mmmm, how appropriate. Being felt up by a Lavoisier under a sign that states “Cognac Lavoisier: Of course you deserve it.”

A perpetual question that has lingered in my mind through the three Winemaker Detective mysteries I’ve read is how Benjamin is a winemaker. In every story, he is touted as a wine taster. A judge of fine wine who writes a highly respected guide. For the first time, I’m now reading that Benjamin is “asking” a fellow guest at Marie-France’s dinner party about his background, that the man has obviously read the Cooker guide on wine, tasted Benjamin’s wines… What wines does Benjamin make?

This story bugs me. Alaux/Balen jump all over the place and don’t lead up to anything. I have no idea where they get their ideas from. There are so few clues to go on and what there may be are vague. Then there’s the, gasp, melodrama. Okay, I’ve tried. I’m giving up on the Winemaker Detective. It never gets any better than this.

The Story

Marie-France is too beautiful to be restrained by one lover, and she indulges wherever it can do her company the most good, for their father’s death did not do the company any favors.

Now the Chinese investors are wanting to change the company’s direction, to advertise, and they’ve hired Benjamin Cooker to audit the books.

The Characters

Benjamin Cooker writes a highly respected wine guide, the Cooker Guide, through his company Cooker & Company of Bordeaux. Elisabeth is his wife, and they have a daughter, Margaux. Bacchus is the name of his dog. Virgile Lanssien is his assistant. Carla is the most recent woman in Virgile’s life. Jacqueline Delmas is Benjamin’s secretary. Alexandrine de la Palussière works in the lab.

Sheila Scott is an Englishwoman and an expat who has been living in a water mill she remodeled, Samson’s Mill, in the Cognac area for the past ten years. She’s also an old girlfriend of Benjamin’s from their first year together at art school. Styron is her deceased lover, a writer, and she’s now living on the royalties from his work. Nathan is Sheila and Styron’s son. He works as a model as he auditions for roles in theater.

Marie-France Lavoisier is somewhat nuts with her belief that the moon is keeping her young. Of course, she is a beautiful woman, so she may have good reason for her belief. During the day, she is the head of Lavoisier Cognacs based at their home, Château Floyras, and one of the last aristocracies of Cognac. Her younger brother, Little Pierre, is the nose for the company. Jolliet is a lawyer who has been in charge of the estate since her brother’s death. Justine is the maid.

Antoine de Gaulejat is an envoy for the prime minister. Maurice Fauret de Solmilhac is a mischievous braggart with an interest in Marie-France. Hmmm, Sheila has some inside knowledge about the guy.

Maria is the Château Yeuse sommelière.

Claude-Henri is the older brother, and he sold his share of the company to some Chinese investors. Shiyi Cheng is a Lavoisier Cognacs board member concerned about his group’s investment. Guo Liang is the last man with whom Claude-Henri dealt.

The Cover and Title

The cover is the browns of a wooden table and barrel upon stacked barrel of cognac lining the walls on either side. An archway of stone frames a large snifter of a golden brandy sloshing up and over one side of the glass.

The title is too true for there are too many Cognac Conspiracies, plots, and schemes.

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4 responses to “Book Review: Cognac Conspiracies by Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noël Balen

  1. I often wonder if things get lost in a translation of a novel. I had the same thoughts with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoos series.
    I read part of Dark Lover in Spanish, and it didn’t have the same appeal as it did when I read it in English. I think there are some feeling that are very difficult to translate.
    Sorry this didn’t work for you.

  2. I hate reading translations for exactly the reason you mention, Stormi, there is always something lost… And as Loupe said, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was an amazing series to me, but I read it in Norwegian (Norwegian and Swedish is close enough that there wouldn’t really be anything lost). I may try to read the first one in English one day just to see if it’s very different.

    Too bad the Cognac Conspiracies did’t work for you! Especially because the book is set in France and could have been really good.

    • I did read The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo in English and saw the English movie. Both were excellent, although I can’t say how different it was from the original Norwegian. The whole Winemaker Detective Mystery series should have been fun. I adore wines and the analysis of their flavors and aromas. Benjamin’s enjoyment of food with the proper wines, his sigh at the end of a meal with a good brandy or cognac and a smooth cigar… I had so looked forward to this series. And there are too many problems (from my point of view!), and it ruins the story. Again, it’s only my opinion.

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