Book Review: Deadly Tasting by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen

Posted November 17, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 4 Comments

Book Review: Deadly Tasting by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël BalenDeadly Tasting by Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen
Published by Le French Book on October 17, 2014
Pages: 140
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley


A serial killer is on the loose in Bordeaux. A local chief detective calls wine expert Benjamin Cooker to the crime scene of a brutal murder. The killer has left a strange calling card: twelve wine glasses lined up in a semi-circle with the first one filled with wine. Cooker is charged with the task of identifying the fabulous grand cru and is astonished by what he learns. A second victim is found, with two glasses filled. Is the killer intentionally leaving clues about his victims and his motives? Memories are jogged about the complicated history of Bordeaux during Nazi occupation. It was a dark time: weinfuhrers ruled the wine trade, while collaborationists and paramilitary organizations spread terror throughout the region. In present-day wine country, time is running out. Will Cooker and his young assistant Virgile solve the mystery before all twelve glasses are full?

Also by this author: Nightmare in Burgundy, Cognac Conspiracies

Fourth in the Winemaker Detective Mysteries series and revolving around Benjamin Cooker and his assistant, Virgile. The story is set in Bordeaux.

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

My Take
I’m very conflicted on how to rate this. Part of me wants to give it a “2” as I simply do not view this as a mystery. It’s more like a story about wine and the tasting of and a visit into the history of collaborationist France during World War II. It doesn’t feel like a legitimate mystery story. And yet, I do enjoy the comparisons.

I love reading about Benjamin tasting the wines. It makes me want to visit France, a winery, a tasting just to roll that vintage around my own mouth, to allow the flavors to hit the roof of my mouth, up the middle and along the sides of my tongue, the back of my throat, to inhale all the scents that come with it. I love that Benjamin can taste the soil and keep track of 63 tastings in one afternoon!

Both men’s knowledge of the differing qualities of each year’s vintage is spectacular. I enjoyed the comparison of diving into a rhythmic meter with assessing wines when Benjamin has his fun with some of those he consults with over the Pétrus with their passion for music and the engineers and others behind the productions and his passion for quotations all combined with their mutual passion for wine. Passions into which these men dive and explore all the nuances of their interests.

I can understand why Barbaroux would want Benjamin’s expertise on the wine and possibly on the significance of the display of wine glasses, but I don’t understand why Benjamin’s presence at every scene is so important. Especially when Barbaroux chastises Benjamin for trying to help. I mean, what the heck? He wants his help, asks questions that are not all wine-related, makes it seem so very important. He expects Benjamin to hang about, to be available, but then he shuts him down. Barbaroux needs to make up his mind. Get consistent. Don’t make a drama out of this by having Barbaroux flip back and forth. It’s more as if the Winemaker (maker?? why not taster?) Detective must be at every crime scene to make this legitimate.

When Benjamin and Virgile go snooping around on their own, Barbaroux doesn’t get upset, annoyed, or angry. It’s more like it’s business-as-usual to have a wine taster breaking into dead people’s houses and snooping around. I dunno, maybe in France the police don’t mind if you muck about in their crime scenes.

I’m guessing there was a reason to note that Benjamin was drinking tea out of a cup using the Duke of Kent’s colors? I did enjoy the joke about the bishop, the priest, and the spirits in the cellars.

Don’t expect to get much show in this as it’s almost all tell. Pssst, it’s a CYA on my part because I’m sure there must have been a bit of show somewhere.

I am so confused. I had the impression Dominique was a man, and yet he also appears to be Simone who hangs herself? No, wait. She died months ago. This is not clear here. To be honest, this whole story feels more like a story which old men tell over their wine and cigars. I get no sense of actual detective work. Sure, there’s a policeman, there are bodies, and there are clues. Benjamin and Virgile wander off to chat with people they know and get all sorts of historical anecdotes about collaborators during the Second World War. But this doesn’t feel like a mystery story.

And I absolutely hated the ending. It was just plopped out there. I get the suicide at the end, but who it is isn’t clear with the way the note is presented in this. I want to know why it took so long to start on this path. Why use the Pétrus? Why draw attention to yourself? Actually, he never did draw attention to himself other than Virgile’s noticing the paint. Which was never passed on to Barbaroux. Why would he kill himself? There didn’t appear to be any pressure on him. No one knew about him.

The wine, the tasting, the knowledge of its production is more what the Winemaker Detective Mysteries is about with just a soupçon of mystery.

The Story
Poor Benjamin. His wife has put him on the cabbage soup diet. No more salmon in puff pastry, sea scallop fricassees, or rabbit confits for Benjamin. He’ll be lucky to get a few bananas.

It’s a diet that will not change even as Inspector Barbaroux requires his aid in a nasty serial killing of a case, and I don’t mean the case of Pétrus wine being used up.

The Characters
Benjamin Cooker is a respected wine taster, the “most brilliant wine expert of [his] generation” with a lovely office that’s slowly losing its Second Empire appeal. Elisabeth Cooker is his worried wife. Virgile Lanssien is Cooker’s young assistant. Jacqueline is his secretary. Bacchus is his Irish setter. Alexandrine de la Palussière prepares tastings.

Inspector Barbaroux is frustrated over the murders of a number of men.

Franck Dubourdieu is the tennis-playing friend with an interest in agronomy and oenology. Renaud Duboyne de Ladonnet manages a maritime insurance company but his true passion is clearing his grandfather’s name. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the German occupation of Bordeaux that rivals anything even the inspector can find.

Rudolph Martinez is a radio interviewer with France Bleu Gironde. I certainly enjoyed his “Bobo of Bordeaux” even if I have no idea why he was included. Alain Massip runs the Massip Company where Grémillon worked as a leather cutter. Massip’s father, Maurice, had recorded his experiences in a German camp.

The victims…who were all members of the French Billiard Club
Joseph Larède owned Chez Joseph, a bar in Mériadeck. Jules-Ernest Grémillon is 93; Émile Chaussagne is 88; the already-dead Armand Jouvenaze and Jean Sauveterre are cousins; Édouad Prébourg, 88, was involved with the infamous Albert “the Bull” Bitrian; and, Élie Péricaille, 89, said to have been a sadistic member of the Milice, tried to defend himself. Four men are left: Gabriel Bergerive, Gustave Tasdori, Arthur Darnaudon, and Edmond Cosinac.

Dominique Jouvenaze is Armand’s nephew. Antoine and Simone are Dominique’s recently deceased parents who had refused to speak of Armand and refused to allow the children any communication with their uncle. Madeleine was Dominique’s?? “twin”. Samuel Frydman is the son of Isaac, a law professor, and Irma Frydman, a pianist, and was born during the war. Simon and Sarah were his siblings. Dr. Capderoque hid the Frydmans.

During World War II
Jacques Doriot led the French Popular Party while Marcel Déat founded the National Popular Rally. Maurice Dealuney started La Tempête as an anti-Jew newspaper and a slew of others. Adrien Marquet was the mayor of Bordeaux and minister of the interior in the Vichy government.

Heinz Bömers was a wine broker during the war who tried to make it easy on the French winemakers. Louis Eschenauer was from a family of wine merchants and estate owners and known as the king of Bordeaux and Uncle Louis was also a friend of Joachim von Ribbentrop. He was also uncle to Captain Ernst Kühnemann, a German wine merchant in command of Bordeaux’s port. Maurice Papon was much worse.

Aristide de Sousa Mendès was the Portuguese consul and saved many Jews.

The Cover
The cover is of an underground, brick-vaulted room with an old wooden, round table and bench. Twelve wineglasses form a half-circle on the table, one glass full, and one of which has fallen over, spilling its red, red wine. The bottle is at the center of what would be the circle.

The title is more pointed toward the wine in this Deadly Tasting.

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4 responses to “Book Review: Deadly Tasting by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen

  1. It’s too bad that this story didn’t exactly deliver on the mystery angle, however the historical, and wine tasting elements sound like they hit their mark. Still, I dislike it when a book is misleading, so I think your rating was justified.

    Carmel @ Rabid Reads

    • ladystorm

      Thanks. Yeah, the history and wine aspects were tasty, and I do wish Alaux and Balen would pay more attention to the mystery aspect. I kept feeling cheated in spite of how much I enjoyed the tasting.

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