Alaux, Jean-Pierre & Balen, Noel - 'Deadly Tasting' (translated by Sally Pane)
DEADLY TASTING by French duo Alaux and Balen (translated by Sally Pane) is the fourth in their series of novels featuring wine specialist and sleuth Benjamin Cooker. Cooker takes a break from producing the definitive guide to French wines, to provide an expert opinion for his friend, the grumpy police inspector Barbaroux, in a tricky murder case.
A glass of vintage wine has been found at the scene of the brutal murder of elderly man Jules Gremillon. Glasses of the same wine, left in a carefully arranged semi-circle of twelve glasses are being left as a calling card at the scenes of further murders of elderly men and in front of vandalised gravestones in the Bordeaux area. As part of the investigation into the significance of this ritual, Barbaroux wants Cooker to identify the wine in the glass. After identifying the wine, Cooker starts to dig deeper into the case. References made to Nazis on the daubed gravestones lead him to delve into the murky wartime history of local collaboration. Cooker is assisted in his investigation by young Virgile, his underling in the wine trade, and Virgile's friend, the eccentric highly knowledgeable local historian Renaud.
This is a fun and informative take on the cozy crime mystery, French style. Cooker is a reasonably interesting protagonist, rather irascible due to being forced into a cabbage soup diet by his wife, a gag that is somewhat laboured throughout the course of the book. The relationship between Cooker and his young assistant, is nicely pitched, with some interesting interactions between them as they carry out the day job of wine reviewing. I found the most interesting aspect of the book was learning about the bewildering range of pro-Nazi organisations of various size and significance operating in the Bordeaux region during the war, and the uneasy interactions between the local wine-sellers and the Nazi government and its representatives.
Laura Root, England