The Grand Cru Heist (The Winemaker Detective Series 2) by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen

the grand cru heistA pleasurable palate-cleanser…

😀 😀 😀 😀

When winemaker and critic Benjamin Cooker is brutally attacked and car-jacked one night in Paris, he feels he needs to take some time out of work to recover, so he heads for the Loire Valley where he can do a bit of wine-tasting while otherwise taking it easy. That’s the plan anyway, until one of the other guests at the hotel is murdered and the waiter disappears. Meantime one of Cooker’s friends in the wine business is being targeted with a series of anonymous letters from someone who appears to be stealing cases of his wine from different places. Suddenly Cooker and his assistant Virgile seem to be involved in two investigations…

This delightfully short book falls firmly into the category of ‘cosy’. There is a plot and an investigation, and there are a few darker moments around Cooker’s feelings of vulnerability after being attacked and the illness of Virgile’s sister. But these are all tucked comfortably into the spaces between the long leisurely meals, discussions of fine wine, post-prandial cigars and drooling over vintage cars with which Cooker fills his day.

vineyard loire valley

This is the second in a series, though the first I’ve read, and both Cooker and Virgile are well-developed and likeable characters with whom it is a pleasure to spend some time. Cooker is middle-aged and happily married, with a temper but loyal to his friends, and with a zest for life that covers both his work and leisure time. Virgile is his young assistant, attractive and unattached, who is learning about the business and occasionally about life from the older man. The rest of the characters aren’t quite so well-developed, perhaps unsurprisingly in a book that comes in at around 150 pages; and the murder element of the plot is fairly easy to work out, though the other strand about the wine-thefts and letters is less straightforward. The quality of the writing is good as is the translation by Anne Trager.

Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen
Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen

I’m not going to pretend that this book counts as great literature – it’s not trying to be. But it’s a light, pleasurable read that works beautifully to cleanse the palate between heavier books. I’ve already downloaded one of the others in the series to have in reserve for the next time I need a quick pick-me-up. Recommended.

Thanks to Margot at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist for recommending this one – here’s her review.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Le French Book.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

46 thoughts on “The Grand Cru Heist (The Winemaker Detective Series 2) by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen

  1. FictionFan – Thanks for the link and the mention. I’m very glad that you enjoyed this one. I like this series very much. I do like the characters of course, and I love the setting. And although you’re right that the novels are cosies, they’re not too ‘fluffy’ to enjoy as stories as well.

    • Very enjoyable, Margot, and as you say, enough of a plot to stop them from being too light, and beautifully short without stinting on development of the main characters. And I love the setting…and the food and the wine… 🙂

    • Hmm…I suspect every crime reader would have their own definition of that, but for me it means – no graphic descriptions of sex or violence, no swearing (or very little), an amateur detective usually rather than police (though I can think of exceptions to that rule), usually the reader doesn’t care about the victim (because the victim is bad in some way – so no child-killing, serial killers etc), no dwelling on grief, NO descriptions of autopsies, and usually takes place within a small community. Clues and a puzzle, rather than police procedures. And usually there’s some other theme in the book as well as the crime – so in this one there’s loads of stuff about wine and wine-making. Bet you’re sorry you asked now!

      He is, though I preferred Cooker – grumpy but good-hearted.

      I’ve never understood how people can collaborate on writing – it seems like such an individual thing. But you and Nick collaborate sometimes, don’t you?

      • Aha! Thanks so much for explaining. I’ve always wondered about it. Now I know. Thanks many.

        Oh! How could you prefer that?

        It does, and is! Well… *laughs* You caught me! Uh…when I write with Nick it’s usually more of a “what should happen next thing”. I know that doesn’t make sense. It’s just dadblame different for an AurToon!

        • My pleasure, C-W-W! See how much you learn here? *winks and chuckles*

          Well…he reminded me of the Professor…

          Hmm…so you collaborate on the plot more than the actual writing, is that it? I think you should make a skit of you and Nick writing a skit – and casting it. That is, once you and Nick have signed your peace-treaty…

          • I do! *temped to growl*

            Grumpy? I’m not grumpy, dadblameit!

            Yes, that’s it! I think it’s a wonder that you saw through that jumbled mess, really. But I can’t act. Though, I have been considering putting myself in one. FEF, the professor is having trouble coming up with a story…any characters you’d like to hear from?

            • Have I ever mentioned that I think it’s awfully c&a when the Professor growls?

              Haha! Of course you’re not, dadblameit!

              Really? As your Professorish self, or as someone else? Some of your fans may explode with thrilldom if you put in a personal appearance…you may have to hire bodyguards… *giggles wickedly*

              Hmm…well, I did enjoy Marlin’s appearance as a traffic cop and he hardly ever gets to play. But then, we haven’t heard from Mark Malone for absolutely ages… In fact, I can’t remember – was he in a skit or just in a written story?

          • It really can’t be my fault that all my vicious attributes are seen…in the wrong light!

            *tempted to growl again, but decides not to*

            Oh no, it would be as my personal professorish self, but I don’t know. I’d be nervous about such a thing.

            He was just in a written story, actually…

            • *laughing lots* Poor C-W-W! I know! You try so hard to be mean and vicious and scary, and it just keeps coming out as cute and adorable and…fluffy! What an affliction!

              *laughing even more* Oh, go on! Please?

              Well, I think that would be wondrous, adding much to the joyousness of a Thursday! But just because the SEP of the PFC thinks it’s a great idea (d’you like the subtle pressure there?), don’t do it unless you’d enjoy it…

              Oh…well, Marlin then, or what about the Professor’s cousin? (Unless the Professor wanted to take on the role of MM2 himself…)

            • And fluffy? *buries head*

              No! No more growls. I’ll have to come up with something more vicious.

              Loads of pressure! I will keep it in mind, but…oh dear!

              My cousin… Oh, that’s right. Sometimes I think he’s my nephew for some odd reason. MM2? Nah! I’m better.

            • No! You must dig it up again! You need your head to keep your hat on.

              *waits apprehensively*

              You could do a big romantic love scene with Amelia…*(see note below)

              Well, obviously! The Professor is better than everybody! (Except Schwarzy, maybe.)

              *NB Don’t you dare!!

            • I’ll wear it on my ankle–if that’s possible.

              *war cry*

              Schwarz is way better, I agree. He’s more…more…a better actor! *laughs cause he knows something FEF only suspects* That was an evil sentence.

              Dare what, Aravis?

            • Ok, but then you’ll have to walk on your hands.

              *jumps six feet in the air and then cowers behind sofa* Ooh, Prof, that was so ferocious! I’m so proud of you!

              *laughs because she thinks C-W-W might have confirmed something she suspects*

              Dare to do a big romantic love scene with Amelia…

            • I’ve never tried that, but I’ve been tempted. Maybe I shouldn’t.

              *laughing lots* *smiles proudly*

              Rats and a Heifer. You’re just as wicked as I am. Maybe even worse!

              With Mark? That would be an interest. But I don’t think his character lends itself to such a thing. You should like that sort of…guck anyway. It’s like Lizio and Darby.

            • Or maybe you should? Think how much harder it would be for trees to bash you over the head…

              *hesitantly comes back out from behind sofa*

              *cackles*

              No! Oh, this has all become so confusing! No, I meant…well…it was…well…oh, never mind! BUT – there is no way you can compare Amelia to Lizio – especially since you have previously said Lizio reminds you of FF!!

            • *laughs* Now you think I’m a clumsy sort of professor.

              *shakes your hand*

              I don’t believe your capable!

              You must tell me what you meant. *taps foot impatiently* That’s true. FEF’s better than Lizio.

            • It’s because you don’t dance enough – that would make you nimble enough to avoid vicious tree trunks.

              Oh, yes – my cackle is very evil! Still can’t do a Salami chuckle though…

              Well…going back a million comments or so, we were discussing you appearing in a skit, and I said “You could do a big romantic love scene with Amelia…” but you thought I was suggesting MM2 should do it, when I meant you, C-W-W, the Professor, as yourself. Though of course I was only joking – so I also said “Don’t you dare!” Which just seemed to befuddle you even more… You see? Confusing…

            • In truth, the professor is very nimble… And quick. I should have played baseball, actually. (I can’t really play. Well, I can pitch, but can’t hit.)

              Yeah, that’s a hard one. It’s a one of a kind laugh! Wouldn’t it be cool if you were out somewhere some day, and you heard that?

              No, I get it! And I wouldn’t ever ever ever ever ever ever ever dare!

            • Jack! Nooo! Then you’d have to wear those silly trousery-thingies! No, much better to stick to skirts.

              No, it wouldn’t be cool – it would be dadblamed terrifying!! Is it not bad enough that I can hear their voices while reading the stories, without them suddenly chuckling at me in a disembodied kind of way from behind trees?!?!? Are you trying to frighten poor FF to death???

              *laughing lots* Good, good, good, good, good, good, good decision!

  2. I have often wondered exactly what a cosy crime novel might be. Is that not an oxymoron given that presumably in every example someone is killed?

    • Well, yes…but I think the difference is that in a ‘cosy’ nobody cares about the victim much, quite often because they’re bad. Look at ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ for example – everybody, including the detectives and the reader, feels that the victim got his just desserts. Or else you don’t care about them (as in the case of this book) because you never get to know them, and you don’t get shown any grieving friends or relatives – the victim is there merely as a body to hang a puzzle round, rather than as a character to feel sorry for. Plus a nice setting, a usually (but not always) amateur ‘tec, no graphic stuff of any kind…and the criminal all caught and locked away at the end so the world feels safe again…

      But I suspect each person’s definition of what’s ‘cosy’ would be different from everyone else’s.

        • Ha! Look at that. I picked AC before I googled Murder on the Orient Express. Bingo! But I guess I should have known that one was Christie’s. I think I’ve only read one of her books, if I recall correctly, And Then There Were None. But the brain cells that read it have left my body.

          • I reckon some AC fans would be horrified to have them described as cosy, and there are definitely some that are a bit too hard-edged for that. But on the whole, I do think of most of them as very superior cosies – in fact, possibly the original cosies. So often the victim is unpleasant, the reader is never subjected to horrors and gruesomeness, the murders are often in fact bloodless – poison etc. The pleasure is in the solving of a puzzle and in the end the world is safe and the sun shines – and often there’s a lovely little romance going on in the background (or even the foreground) between two characters the reader really likes.

            It’s the ones that I’d think of as cosy that I enjoy most to be honest – The Murder at the Vicarage, The Moving Finger, Death on the Nile…

            • Aha! Now you have even more recs for me. Love how you slipped those in.

              Superior cosy. I like that term. Perhaps you can create an icon for your recs. One-to-five cosies. 😀

            • Smooth, wasn’t it? 😉 But I’ll narrow it down – The Moving Finger is not just one of the very best crime novels to come out of the Golden Age, but is also definitely a cosy – IMHO, of course. (Though some people would think the second murder stops it being cosy – but I don’t, for reasons I can’t explain without it being a spoiler…)

              Haha! I might try that! I feel a distinct cosy-reading phase coming on…

        • Yes, agreed! In fact, that’s about the only time I’m happy to read romance, when it’s included as part of a cosy. I love some of the romances in Agatha Christie books.

  3. I do like cozy/cottage mysteries. Will consider this one. Also mentioning to my DH, as he may like to check it out! 🙂 (pictures are great — love them)

    • Thanks, DR! They do make a pleasant change from some of the heavier stuff. If you decide to try this, I hope you enjoy – apparently there are 22 in the series!

    • Yes, a little bit of relaxation is sometimes needed between all the heavier, darker reads – and this one had a strong enough plot to hold my interest. Hope you enjoy!

  4. If all we ever read were deep, meaningful books we would be lopsided. And maybe a bit boring. 🙂 I enjoy light reader, especially in the summer. At the beach.

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