It’s summer in Bordeaux. There’s a heat wave, the vineyards are suffering, vintners are on edge, and wine expert Benjamin Cooker’s daughter is visiting. A tragic car accident draws the Winemaker Detective and his assistant Virgile into a case where the stakes are very personal, and they uncover some dirty secrets hiding behind some of Bordeaux’s finest grand cru classé wines from Margaux.
About the Author
Jean-Pierre Alaux is a magazine, radio and tele- vision journalist when he is not writing novels in southwestern France. He is a genuine wine and food lover, and won the Antonin Carême prize for his cookbook La Truffe sur le Soufflé, which he wrote with the chef Alexis Pélissou.
Noël Balen lives in Paris, where he shares his time between writing, making re- cords, 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 studied French at State University of New York Oswego and the Sorbonne before receiving her Masters Degree in French Literature from the University of Colorado where she wrote Camus and the Americas: A Thematic Analysis of Three Works Based on His Journaux de Voyage. Her career includes more than twenty years of translating and teaching French and Italian at Berlitz and at Colorado University Boulder. She has translated a number of books in the Winemaker Detective series. She lives in Boulder, Colorado, with her husband.
Read an Excerpt
Mayhem in Margaux
A Winemaker Detective Mystery
By Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen, Sally Pane
Le French BookCopyright © 2004 Librairie Arthème Fayard
All rights reserved.
She was there, finally. Her laughter cascading down the stairs, the jar of blackberry jam left uncovered because she always forgot to put the lid back on, her quick hello as she dashed through the kitchen to start her morning run, and her clothes strewn helter-skelter in the middle of the bedroom. Cheerful, exuberant, curious, and messy. Finally, she was there for her summer visit, ready to stir Grangebelle out of its hot-weather lethargy.
Benjamin Cooker smiled as he looked at the picture on his desk. The colors were faded now, almost gone in some places. Margaux must have been six, maybe seven; she was wearing the little red coat with horn buttons that she ripped while climbing a fence. He remembered how she whimpered that day. To comfort her, he promised to ask the neighboring farmer to give her a ride on his tractor.
Benjamin's office was full of mementoes, most of which reminded him of his daughter. On his Empire-style table was a ceramic tile, painted in acrylic, from her kindergarten days. He still used it as a paperweight. Next to an eighteenth-century silver inkwell, a glass yogurt container covered with geometric designs on aluminum foil held all his pencils and pens. And on his Art Deco filing cabinet was her representation of a windmill: sunflower seeds, dried beans, and lentils glued on cardboard. Over time, Margaux's Father's Day gifts had become more sophisticated. She had dipped into her piggybank toward the end of junior high school and given him a brochure published in the nineteen thirties by the Margaux Winemakers Union. "The best wine in the world," it read.
A true elixir for a long life! Margaux wine revives the body without dulling the mind. Your breath stays clean and your mouth cool, because it's strong but not overwhelming. Its color is gorgeous and its bouquet incomparable. Its supremely delicate taste gives it unparalleled distinction. When you buy MARGAUX, you buy HAPPINESS and HEALTH.
When his mind wandered during the long hours at his desk, Benjamin liked to reread the brochure, which he had framed in bronze-colored wood. It took him back to a carefree time of innocent enthusiasm and strong convictions.
The winemaker remembered himself as a youngster with corduroy shorts and scraped knees, a well-bred and lonely boy who, long before creating the acclaimed Cooker Guide series sold in bookstores all over the continent, had awakened his senses in the wine cellar of Grangebelle, the family estate in Médoc where he now lived with his wife, Elisabeth. His grandfather, Eugene Frontenac, although not the best winemaker in the area, had garnered considerable respect when it came to tasting wine from the barrel and giving his opinion. The old man had a way with words and always found the right one, the precise comparison, the judicious observation to describe so many subtle aromas—fig, roasted almond, violet, candied prune, caramel, musk, brioche, gunflint, hay, cacao, flint, licorice, Murelle cherry, candied fruit, or fern. Benjamin had been his eager student, and well before he even put a glass of wine to his lips, he had learned a world of descriptive variations, which no doubt helped him rise in the ranks of notable wine tasters.
Indeed, no one questioned Benjamin Cooker's expertise in the complex area of wine tasting. It was the very core of his business. The nearly thirty organic acids found in wine, its twenty-some varieties of alcohol, and more than eighty esters and aldehydes made for a heady mix he would sniff, swirl, and describe. Despite the sometimes dramatic performance of chewing and slurping, Benjamin knew that he didn't detect a wine's flavor on his tongue, but instead in his nose. It was his keen olfactory sense that allowed him to distinguish the four hundred or so aromatic compounds at work. That was as far as the science went. The rest involved sensory memory and art—although he knew that some skeptics called it bull. Benjamin sometimes returned to his moments with his grandfather on the rare occasions that he felt at a loss for words.
"Benjamin, come join us for tea," Elisabeth called from the kitchen. "We'll have it on the terrace." Her tone was that particular variant of nonchalant that meant she didn't want him to dawdle.
He grumbled and left the relative coolness of his office to join his wife and daughter. The July air was oppressive, dry, and heavy, without the slightest promise of a storm. He sat down in his chair and sank his spoon into the jar of jam. But before he could put it to his lips, a drop of the gooey sweet plopped on his shirt.
"Benjamin, you're such a child," Elisabeth said as she poured his Darjeeling. "At least you didn't use your finger."
He winked at Margaux, who bit her lip to suppress a smile. They had long ago established a complicity. It was based on childish games, silly gestures, and harmless pranks, along with an occasional long discussion about the tides, the injustice of God, food cooked in goose fat, the works of Chateaubriand, the art of polishing shoes, and the architecture of the Cordouan lighthouse. Benjamin had never been an authoritarian parent. He had left Margaux's basic upbringing to his wife. To be sure, there was some tension between mother and daughter during the teenage years, but the two of them had managed to find a balance, especially after Margaux moved to the city to study business.
Elisabeth had adapted well to her daughter's decision to study in Bordeaux and enjoyed visiting her. It was an opportunity to get away from the Médoc, do some shopping, have uninterrupted time with her daughter, and discuss large and small matters, which ranged from politics and social issues to food and fashion.
"I saw you ladies gawking over an issue of Femme Actuelle. If you're planning to hit the shops later, please remember that I don't have a surgeon's income."
"It was Marie Claire, Papa, and you should have seen that pair of designer jeans," Margaux said, winking at her mom.
"I'm sure you'd look quite fetching in them with a pair of embellished heels," Benjamin said, sipping his tea.
"Give it up, Papa. You're useless when it comes to fashion."
"I wouldn't say useless. I just have traditional tastes."
"You say traditional," Margaux said, pouring herself another cup of tea. "I say fuddy-duddy."
"Now you've gone too far, young lady," Benjamin shot back, grinning. "And I'll have you know that I do splurge on clothes from time to time."
"Yes, to replace that same Loden coat, herringbone shirt, tweed jacket, or English shoes that you've worn since before I was born."
"Touché, my darling fashion queen."
"These are delicious, Papa," Margaux said, changing the subject and grabbing another almond meringue cookie.
"Authentic macarons de Saint-Émilion. There's more to that town than wine. The recipe dates back to 1620."
Benjamin finished his tea, set down his china cup, and glanced at the clock. "We have to get going, girls."
"Don't worry, Papa. I don't need long to change."
"We'll be down in just a minute," Elisabeth chimed in.
Considerate. Yet another of his beautiful wife's characteristics. Without breaking a sweat, she could turn out a dinner rivaling any served up in a two-star restaurant. Then she could sit down with her guests and discuss world affairs. And she hardly ever complained about his work, which required him to be away from home much of the time. He felt truly blessed to have her at his side.
The winemaker stood up and gave his wife and daughter an affectionate look before heading back to his office, if only for the few minutes Elisabeth and Margaux needed to get ready. An article for an Australian magazine that he had spent two days laboring over still wasn't finished.
He would have preferred putting off his work. Grangebelle's stone construction had kept the house relatively cool during the past month. But a person had to be either a martyr or a fool to do anything in heat that was this stifling. The weather forecasters weren't seeing any signs of a letup, either. Some were even predicting a heat wave worse than the one the region had experienced in 2003. The vineyards were beginning to show troubling signs, and now there was the threat of a drought.
Benjamin trudged back to his desk and made some easy revisions, crossing out a few redundancies and reworking a paragraph here and there. Then he decided he had done enough. Upstairs, he could hear Margaux going from room to room in her heels.
"Did you get into my makeup again?" Elisabeth called to her daughter, sounding more curious than irritated.
"We're taking off in fifteen minutes!" Benjamin yelled up the stairs. He stepped into his own bathroom at the end of the hall, having been crowded out of the one upstairs many years earlier.
He showered quickly, shaved, and splashed on some Eau d'Orange, which he preferred on hot days. It was much lighter than his usual Bel Ami. After he put on his sky-blue shirt, he took a good look at himself in the mirror. He was rare that he lingered before his reflection, and whenever he indulged in this dangerous exercise, he was invariably surprised to see how he had aged. Eyelids not quite as high, a bundle of wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, and a heavier chin. At this stage in his life, Benjamin, the product of a London father and a Bordeaux mother, disparaged his visage: a mix of arrogance and innocence, a bit aloof and yet jolly.
Elisabeth and Margaux were waiting for him when he emerged from the bathroom.
"You look fabulous, ladies! Really superb."
"And you thought you'd be waiting for us. We've been cooling our heels while you've been splashing on your Eau d'Orange and staring at your handsome face in the mirror," Elisabeth said, playfully pinching his cheek.
"Do these pearls make me look like an old lady?" Margaux asked, running her fingers over a three-strand choker.
"Not at all." Benjamin said. "Pearls never go out of style. They're timeless."
"As if you'd know about style, Papa. I think they look kind of matronly."
"Your father is right. That choker looks very nice on you. Trust him for a change."
"When I say 'matronly,' I mean like some fussy old rich lady. You know the type."
"Oh, I do," Benjamin chuckled. "But you have nothing to worry about. You have inherited your mother's natural class."
Elisabeth brushed his cheek with a kiss.
"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Your father loved that da Vinci quote, didn't he, Benjamin?"
Like Benjamin himself, Paul William Cooker had a talent for reeling off quotes, as well as coming up with his own expressions. A London antique dealer, he collected sayings with the same passion that he acquired boxes, tables, and chairs: in profusion. They filled his mind, just as his old things filled the store. Some of his expressions had absolutely no truth and were even a bit foolish, but they circulated in the family as if they were the indisputable truth.
"Benjamin, you're looking quite handsome at the moment," Elisabeth said, giving her husband a head-to-toe look-over. "Casual but stylish. You're just my type."
"I envy the two of you," Margaux said. "How do you manage to still love each other after thirty years of living together?"
"Well, I'm very easy to live with," Benjamin said, giving his wife a wink. "There's no other explanation."
"No comment," Elisabeth answered, returning her husband's smile.
They walked outside, where Benjamin's 280 SL convertible was waiting for them. He turned on the ignition, and Elizabeth and Margaux climbed in beside him. He was glad that they hadn't asked him to put the top up to avoid getting their hair mussed. It was a pleasure to be driving with the sun setting at their backs and a warm breeze softly brushing their faces and caressing their necks.
Benjamin drove at a moderate speed to enjoy the moment and let Margaux take in the landscape of her childhood. His daughter had been living in New York for three years, and even though she was sometimes homesick, she didn't regret her decision. Her position as manager of a company that imported gourmet foods from southwestern France had been an opportunity seized at just the right time. The salary was more than decent. Her two-room Greenwich Village apartment was charmingly furnished, and she had acquired close friends who made her feel at home in a huge city where every moment was lived with intensity.
They passed through the villages of Cussac-Fort-Médoc, Arcins, and Soussans and turned left toward Château Margaux. Benjamin slowed down as he passed the sign and kissed Elisabeth's neck. Margaux! How many bottles had borne her name! A name that for centuries had resonated throughout Bordeaux and beyond like the promise of ecstasy.
The building loomed at the end of a road lined with tall plane trees. Its sumptuous Palladian façade was a Greek temple lost in a sea of emerald vines. It had been built at the beginning of the nineteenth century by the same architect who had designed the Bordeaux opera house. Benjamin parked the convertible beside dozens of other cars and gave Elisabeth and Margaux a few minutes to brush their hair. They got out and followed the lamps that lit their way to the gardens flanking the east wing. With glasses in hand, guests were chatting happily. Beyond the tables covered in ecru linen, gold-rimmed dishes, and candelabras, a quartet was playing Baroque music at a volume that complemented the atmosphere, a sure sign that the musicians were experienced and highly skilled in the art of providing background music. Every member of Bordeaux's elite winemaking society was here on this night.
Benjamin could see Elisabeth and Margaux relax as they took in the sea of guests and realized that they had dressed appropriately for the occasion. The hosts had wanted this dinner affair to be lovely but also comfortable. Few men were wearing ties, and the women were in light-colored linen suits and summer dresses with modest necklines.
Benjamin was immediately surrounded by property owners who politely asked how he was doing but mostly wanted his advice. Elisabeth greeted some of the wine merchants' wives she had met at dinner parties and soon found Hubert de Boüard and his wife, who were close friends and the owners of a premier grand cru estate. After managing to escape a paunchy banker who was worried about his heavy investment in grand crus, Benjamin beat a path to his wife, who was taking a glass of Champagne from a server.
"Are you bored, my sweet?"
"Not in the least. Did you know that the Boüards are leaving for Cap Ferret two days from now, just like us? We'll have to have dinner together."
"I'll leave all the planning in your capable hands," Benjamin replied as he waved to a couple whose names he couldn't remember.
"Who is that handsome young man hanging around Margaux?" Elisabeth asked, nodding in the direction of the orchestra.
Benjamin looked over and tensed. A man who appeared to be in his thirties was casually sitting on a table and whispering in his daughter's ear. Margaux let out a laugh, revealing her perfectly white teeth. For the first time, Benjamin was witnessing his daughter in a game of seduction he could never have imagined.
"I think it's Antoine Rinetti," he murmured, his jaw tight. "The new manager of Gayraud-Valrose."
"He's rather young to be in charge of such a château," Elisabeth said. Benjamin picked up a hint of admiration in her voice.
"A Swiss insurance company bought the estate. They brought him in to get the finances in order."
"He's not from here?"
"From Nice. Can't you tell? Flashy suit, a tie that looks like it cost close to a thousand euros."
"You sound jealous, Benjamin. But your daughter is a young woman now. And I think she has pretty good taste."
Benjamin looked at Elisabeth and tried to smile. "Stop teasing," he said.
Although he had accepted Margaux's transition to adolescence and knew, at least intellectually, that she was now a young woman, she was still his little girl. To him, Margaux would always be the child with bright eyes, rosy cheeks, and pixie nose hugging her teddy bear and whimpering over the slightest boo-boo. The insistent gaze of this young man in an Italian suit seemed indecent and would have even been repulsive, were he not so handsome.
Excerpted from Mayhem in Margaux by Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen, Sally Pane. Copyright © 2004 Librairie Arthème Fayard. Excerpted by permission of Le French Book.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Title: Mayhem in Margaux Winemaker Detective Mystery 6 Author: Jean-Pierre Alauz & Noel Balen Translated By: Sally Pane Published: 5-14-15 Publisher: Le French Book Pages: 164 Genre: Mystery, Thrillers & Suspense Sub Genre: International Crime; Amateur Sleuths ISBN: 9781939474384 ASIN: B00VITWYE2 Reviewer: DelAnne Reviewed For: NetGalley My Rating: 4 1/2 Stars . Benjamin and his wife Elisabeth have planned a holiday in Margaux, France where hehopes to inspect the vines that have suffered with the severe heat threatening many of the vineyards in the area. When his daughter, Margaux is in a serious accident the night before they are to leave he is suspicious that perhaps the accident was not an accident after all. Once she is able Benjamin spirits her out of the hospital recuperate with the on holiday. When Virgile arrives and meets Margaux they seem to hit it off. Which seems to rub Benjamin the wrong way, after all no one is good enough for his little girl. The more he and Virgile look into the accident and those who might have a reason to cause the accident the more secrets they bring to light and old scores to be settled. Who could want to harm Margaux? Will Benjamin step in between the growing friendship between his daughter and his assistant? At 164 pages this is still a short story, but you will not be able to tell once you start reading. The writers have managed to pack Mayhem in Margaux full of suspense and unusual clues, not to mention watching Benjamin's consternation as he sees his assistants interest in his baby girl. Every father's dilemma a good man finds our daughter attractive, but is he good enough? Every parent's worst nightmare is also involved finding out your precious daughter has been injured in a serious accident. With many directions to go you will be led on a merry chase in book six of the Winemaker Detective Series. Easily read in one sitting, this fast paced mystery is another winner for Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen. My rating is 4 1/2 stars out of 5.
Benjamin Cooker and his assistant Virgile are back this time they are in the middle of a heat wave and they are visiting vineyards trying yo figure a way to save the grapes. Benjamin's daughter is visiting from the US and goes on a date with a supervisor from one of the vineyards, she is involved in a car accident and Benjamin becomes suspicious and of course the investigation begins. I received this book in exchange for and honest review.
I enjoyed this book, it was a fun and enjoyable walk through the French vineyards! The protagonist of this book is the family of Benjamin and its adventures, its vineyards and a little mystery to solve. Margaux, the daughter of Benjamin, lives and works in New York and has returned home in Bordeaux for a short vacation. She is involved in a terrible car accident with a boy she had met recently and Benjamin will soon discover that it wasn't an accident: someone cut the threads of the brakes. Together with his assistant Virgile will try to find out who almost killed his daughter. In addition, the Winemaker detective must fight against the great heat wave that threatens his vineyards. I liked a lot the family of Benjamin and their relationships: it is difficult for father to accept that her daughter is no longer a child but became a woman. It's the first book I read of this series but can not wait to reading the other. It 's a short reading, the pace is fast and engaging, the mystery is a little predictable but does not take away the taste of history. If you love wine, France and its vineyards, and the lighthearted readings is the book for you. I received the eBook free as a review copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
Another great wine inspector tale. This time Benjamin's daughter Margaux is a major player, and she even does some flirting with Virgile that causes consternation. The characters are well-developed, the plot is deliciously twisted, and once again the only problem is the story flies by so quickly, and you really want to spend more time with these people. The book is interesting and educational, well worth reading.
VERDICT: Fun short cozy packed with suspense, historical details, explanations of issues related to growing wine, and even social problems in France. Grab a glass and enjoy! Here we go again with”The Winemaker Detective series “, now with its 6th book and another famous wine in the Bordeaux region: Mayhem in Margaux. This short cozy is actually packed with lot of goodies. That Summer, France was afflicted with a terrible heat wave and drought. Many elderly were victims, and it was a tough year also for vineyards, exactly as it happened in Summer 2003. Detective and wine connoisseur Benjamin’s daughter, Margaux, is in vacation from the US. When Antoine, a wine manager, takes her out to dinner, they have a major car accident. Reckless driving? Sabotage? Would someone want to target Margaux to take revenge against her father who just wrote a severe critique in his guide against that wine? There’s a lot going on in this short cozy. Neat that Benjamin’s daughter’s name would be Margaux, a common first name but also the name of one of the most renowned Bordeaux wines. Château Margaux dates back to the beginning of the 19th century. In this book of the series, there’s more team work between Ben and Inspector Barbaroux, who happens to be also quite knowledgeable in wines. This was a nice addition, not mentioning the personal implication of Ben through his own daughter whom he wants to protect at all cost. As usual, apart from the enjoyable suspense, there were great descriptions of the landscape (not only the wine region, but also the famous Cordouan lighthouse). As for the wine, I enjoyed the historical details and the explanations on issues such as the effect of extreme heat on vineyards and the complex problem of the cork taint. There’s even the question of illegal Moroccans working in France.
It's a hot summer in Bordeaux and the vineyards are suffering because of the lack of rain. Vine expert Benjamin Cooker's daughter Margaux is visiting and one night she and Antoine Rinetti, a guy she just met that works in a vineyard, is involved in a car accident. But the police soon discover that it was not an accident and Benjamin Cooker and his assistant Virgile begin to snoop around to find why someone would sabotage Rinetti's car. This is the second book I have read in the "A Winemaker Detective Mystery series," the first book I read was Cognac Conspiracies and I enjoyed this one a bit more than the last one. For instance I found the story in this book much better than the last and even though there was not that many suspect to choose from just last the last book I read was it an enjoyable read. I think this series is quite nice to read when you need a break from more darker books, for instance a perfect beach book or why not in the evening on the terrace with a glass of wine. One part of the book that I really enjoyed was the meeting between Virgile and Margaux. I was not sure if they had met before since I haven't read the first books in the series. But they hadn't met before and it was quite funny to read how uncomfortable Benjamin got when his hot and charming assistant met his young daughter. Even though they just seemed to be friendly (for now) was Benjamin a bit, how should I put it, fatherly when it came to Margaux. He likes Virgile, but damn it, he is a bit of a ladies' man. So, I will with great interests look forward to future meetings between Margaux and Virgile.
Do you like wine? Do you like mysteries? If so then I say you should give this series a shot. This was another exciting installment in the Wine Detective series. From the first page I feel as if I am transported straight to France and am right in the midst of this mystery. You will go on a journey of Merdoc and its wine estates while trying to solve this murder mystery. I like how this mystery has wine and food has a part in the story. After reading this book I want to go to France even more. I also like hearing about Benjamin’s family and how they have their own little stories within a story. That is another part of what makes these books nice to read. You feel for Ben in this story since it was his assistant who was killed. These mysteries are short so they are quick reads. I am looking forward to the next book in this series. Each one that I have read so far has been very good and enjoyable.