Late Harvest Havoc – murder among the vineyards

late-harvest-havocI’ve been known to enjoy a glass of wine (or two even). Even more appealing if I can do this while looking out onto some splendid French vista.  Wine + France is a near perfect combination (now if only someone would create a chocolate flavoured wine I’d be in heaven….) Add a touch of mystery to that combination and you have the set up for The Winemakers Detective Series by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balan. This highly successful series delves into the darker world of the wine industry with the aid of two amateur detectives: master winemaker Benjamin Cooker and his aide-de-camp Virgile Lanssien.

In Late Harvest Havoc, the latest episode to be translated into English,  the duo are in the Alsace region. It’s winter time and in the countryside dark clouds are gathering.  Someone is vandalising local vineyards just as the late harvest is about to start. There seems no pattern to the attacks, nothing to connect the damage at one estate to that of another a few miles away. Is this vengeance for a personal grievance? Is there a connection to the days of German occupation? Cooker and  Lanssien put their collective brains to work to try and bring peace.

Detective work is demanding so of course the duo need plenty of sustenance. This is a novel which it’s probably not wise to read if you’re hungry or thirsty. Every day comes with details of something rather scummy sounding from foie gras de canard; caisson de porcelet rôti aux épices douces, and duck and sour cherry terrine to baba au rum. Cooker is a man who likes to eat well and whose palette is as sensitive to food as to wine:

He loved it perfectly ripened, when the golden crust was nice and firm and he rind had gone from soft to creamy. As with wine, Benjamin Cooker assessed Munsters with his nose. He’d plunge his knife in to reveal the centre of this cheese from the Vosges plateau. The more tenacious and rustic the aroma – even a tad repugnant – the more the cheese lover’s nose quivered.

The plot may be rather on the skimpy side and the writing plodding at times but by the end your knowledge of the finer points of  viticulture will have increased markedly. The novel is peppered with gems of info with which to impress your friends. Did you know the best wines in Alsace come from the slopes of the Vosges Mountains, that the Rosacker vineyard takes its name from the wild roses growing nearby or that Riesling needs “exposure to southern sun and a steep incline in slate-rich soil that furrowed in stormy weather.”

All this focus on eating and drinking seems fitting given that the idea for the Winemakers’ Detective Series originated over a meal and a bottle of Château de Gaudou 1996 which is apparently a red wine from Cahors.  I’ve no doubt the detailed descriptions of the wines are accurate but I did wonder whether someone who makes a living from his tastebuds would really smoke as many cigars as Cooker. Wouldn’t that affect the palette so much it would be difficult to pick out the subtler notes of each wine?  Maybe I’m quibbling too much and the finer points don’t matter to the fans of this series or the millions of viewers who watch the TV adaptation.

End notes
Late Harvest Havoc has been available in France since 2005 but only became available in English in 2015. Translated by Sally Pane it is published in the UK by Le French Book, Inc. My copy is courtesy of  the publishers. For details of the book tour organised by France Book Tours. For full tour dates click here.

Win a copy of Late Harvest Havoc 

5 copies of Late Harvest Havoc are available in a giveaway. To enter click on this link.

I’ve tried updating this after some readers alerted me to the problem. If this new link still doesn’t work, go to this book tour page at Words and Peace blog site where Emma has the giveaway open until January 23

Winners will get a choice of print or digital if they live in US residents. In other countries, winners will receive digital copies.


About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on January 16, 2016, in Authors from...., Book Reviews, Crime and thrillers, French authors and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. you have reminded me that I need to review this book too!

  2. Hi. Thanks so much for this review. We are having a lot of fun translating this series. The authors do always write with the TV series in mind now (they are even upping the pace to keep up with the series), but they always seem to come up with original details and stories. Their love of food and wine prevails, that’s for sure. For the earlier books in the series, we work with the authors to bring them up to date, as a lot has happened in the world and in wine since then.

    • How interesting that you go back to the early books and update them. What did you think of my comment re the cigar smoking – am I totally off beam there?

      • I have never smoked and to this date really cant stand cigarette smoke, especially whn I’m stuck in a room full of smokers.

        However, a favourite uncle of mine (now dead), used to smoke cigars (the big fat ones!), and once in a while, I take a hankering for the smell. Even more occasionally, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to smoke one – to the point that I would take up smoking simply to enjoy having one!

      • Hi. I’ve found, having now translated and published over 20 mysteries and thrillers from France ( that French writers seem to love having characters who smoke. I believe this is a remnant from the old days when everyone smoked in public — a bit like Mad Men. No smoking laws date from 1991 in France. In the Winemaker Detective series, however, something else is going on: this isn’t about smoking, it’s about enjoying, it’s about a connoisseur’s approach to all the good things in life, from fine food and wine, to cars and watches, and yes, cigars. Actually, cigar smoking is more like cigar tasting and done with the same attention as wine tasting. As for wine tasting and cigar smoking together, some professional tasters claim it actually improves their perception. Others, of course, say the opposite. 🙂

  3. Thanks so much for your review.
    For the giveaway, you chose the embed link that would work if you did it in a widget.
    As you are just copying and pasting, that was the other link I gave in my email. Here it is:

  4. I can’t get the entry form to work, either, which is a shame because I’m always on the look out for new crime writers. Do you know Frank Tallis’s crime novels set in the turn of the century (19th/20th) Vienna? They have the most wonderful descriptions of cake in them that you can imagine. I think the series has got weaker as it’s gone on, but I still stick with it just to read about those cakes.

  5. P.S. The entry form isn’t working for me.

  6. This looks like fun — especially as I’m dreaming of another trip to France. These don’t seem to be universally available in libraries in the US, but they’re relatively cheap as e-books.

    • fun would be a good description Joy, its not one of those novels where there are lots of themes etc. I suspect the later titles were written with more than one eye on the next episode of the tv series rather than worrying about the strength of the narrative

    • Joyce, maybe ask your library if they could purchase them. I have seen several of the series in paper in my own library, without even me asking for them!

  1. Pingback: Late Harvest Havoc: tour quotations | France Book Tours

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