Splitting Holmes from Watson would have been a risky move for Doyle, but Balen and Alaux made the right call letting Virgile and Alexandrine have time away from Benjamin Cooker so that we can forge a stronger relationship with their characters. At the start of this most recent installment in the Winemaker Detective series, Alexandrine is horribly, viciously attacked, but Benjamin has a lovely and well-deserved vacation awaiting him and Elisabeth, and he chooses not to change his plans. I recognized my attachment to these characters from the irritation I felt toward Benjamin for leaving her like that in her time of need! At any rate, after the initial excitement of Alexandrine's attack subsides, the pace slows down for a spell as we follow Benjamin and co. through the streets of Budapest where the real adventure lies.
Of course, murder follows Benjamin like red beans follow rice, and the winemaker finds himself surrounded by chaos, one result of which is that we get to see a surprisingly fierce side of Elisabeth. Yet even that pales by comparison to what is going on back home with Virgile and Alexandrine. I always knew there was more to her than meets the eye, and the revelation of deeply held secrets paint her in a truly sympathetic light and make my heart go out to her, which added an unexpected emotional depth to the novel and wove me to her character.
Overall, I enjoyed the book thoroughly despite Florence and her dilemma having a "tell, don't show" feel. Nonetheless, while I see that as a minute flaw, it certainly didn't detract from my enjoyment of the novel, which is based largely on my overwhelming empathy for Alexandrine.
Character development is a strong point in Tainted Tokay, and I'm glad Virgile got the chance to show us his mettle. Thumbs up to the authors for their decision to let readers get to know both Virgile and Alexandrine out of the shadow of Benjamin Cooker. From this point forward, he's not the only heavy weight who keeps me looking forward to reading another installment in the Winemaker Detective series.
(ARC, but views are my own honest opinions)
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.
This entry in the Winemaker Detective series is the most disappointing. It is not because Benjamin Cooker goes on vacation with his lovely wife Elizabeth. The most rewarding aspect of the novel is in the greater role that Elizabeth has within in the pages. The second is the leaving of French soil. This always is a risk because it changes the setting, and for series like this, the setting is part of the charm. Alaux and Balen show that they are just as good at keeping the charm of the setting outside of France. The widening of the Benjamin’s world as well as shifting the primary interactions of the series for this novel made a nice change to the setting. Of course, because Benjamin is a French Miss Marple/Jessica Fletcher, murder follows him.
Benjamin has left his shop in to some disarray because Alexandrine has been attacked. It is Virgile’s job to figure who would want to harm the charming woman. And it is here that the book falls down a bit. While it is about time that we learn a bit more Alexandrine, here her plot seems to be simply a nod to Virgile, and what transpires out of that plot seems forced (and is wisely dropped at the end of the book). It was disappointing because Alexandrine is now no longer different than many of the other women who have passed through the pages of this series. That honor really only belongs to Elizabeth now.
Cooker’s mystery makes up for this in some ways, but it is hard to get over the disappointment that the use of Alexandrine causes.
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.
There has been a subtle shift in the Winemaker detective series in last few books. They have gotten a little less cozy and a little darker. This doesn’t mean that the series still isn’t cozy or that all have a sudden Alaux and Balen have become Nordic crime writers. And the change, to be frank, isn’t bad, and is for the better.
But is a noticeable change – one that had me double checking the authors as well as the translator.
Benjamin and his assistant Virgile are in Alsace to taste the wines. Naturally, this means something is going to happen. First someone dies, and then it turns out the grape crops are under attack.
Someone’s assaulting the vines.
Benjamin finds himself in a bad mood, in part because an injury, and in part because he sees the wine market as under attack. He is grouchy. This is a somewhat new and surprising event, for Benjamin always has charm to spare. The use of grouchy and snarky is new, and once gotten use to, welcome. Cooker was always in danger of becoming a saint – the perfect father, husband, and employer. He, at times, in the series, seemed too good to be true. Here, he becomes human, and no less likable. In fact, the flaws make him more likable.
Virgile is still a ladies’ man, but becomes a bit younger. He isn’t less likable for this, yet there is something about his bon homme contrasts nicely with Cooker’s older, grouchy behavior. In fact, it is Virgile who becomes focused on the mystery in a way his employer does not. Virgile gets a bit more screen time here, and it is a welcome change. Though the sexuality of the character, his almost constant evaluation of women based on their looks can be a little trying at times.
What is also important that various levels of the French police get screen time as well, Cooker and Virgile are not operating in the quasi vacuum that they almost seem to do in some of the novels. In other words, the police are actually working here.
Despite the slight shift in characterization and a more adult feeling in subject matter of some sections (the previous book in the series had a sex scene that went beyond what had been the norm before in the series), all the winning parts of the series are still here, and the shift seems to bring them out more. It’s like another type of wine with a different bouquet.
The descriptions of Strasburg, in particular of the clock, are wonderful. One is transported to the country side and the various wineries by the descriptions of the mountains as well as the actual farming itself. The writing has vim and vigor. You are in many ways being treated to a literacy movie, one that calls for wine and cheese instead of popcorn.
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.
This is another installment in the Winemaker Detective series. Benjamin and his lustful apprentice Virgile are hired to evaluate a winery by its potential buyer, who is facing disapproval from his wife. Of course, as always, there appears a body.
I once said that the series reminds me of Jessica Fletcher, and this is partly true. In many ways, however, it is the children of Murder, She Wrote and Midsummer Murders. That is largely true here, and, in fact, there is more Midsummer than Murder She Wrote.
This installment is a little more adult than previous, and is closer to one of the stereotypes of the French that Americans have. Part of this is because the supporting characters get more room here. Overall, that’s a nice touch and removes some of the status quo feeling that sounds Benjamin and his circle.
There are also some in jokes about writing.
The charm of the series lies in the authors’ description of French country and country life, and this book does not let the reader down. In fact, there seems to be more emphasis on description of nature in this book. In part, this seems to be a desire to make a little known part of France better known. This also seems to be true of the discussion about wine and marketing. It’s a bit more issue oriented in this regard. This isn’t to say the discussion is dull; it’s not and you might find yourself recalling it when you next buy wine.
A good entry into an enjoyable series.
Honesty, there should be a vacation tour tied to this series.