Category Archives: Alaux , Jean-Pierre, and Balen, Noel

Review of 'Treachery in Bordeaux' by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen

Available from Le French Book.   (Yes, that really is the name of the publisher!)

I read this book after reading an earlier review by FictionFan, as I was instantly attracted to the idea of a crime fiction story set against the backdrop of the French wine industry.  In the blurb at the end, I was invited to order more books in the series featuring oenologist Benjamin Cooker and his assistant Virgile Lanssien, but, Dear Reader, I shall decline.

What struck me as I started to read was that I was being invited to share the life of a man whose life was perfect:  a loving wife, an adoring dog (called Bacchus – what else?), a lovely house in the beautiful area of Medoc and a highly successful career as a world authority on wine.  He drank fine wines for lunch and his wife rustled up delicious French meals.  High brow and intellectual, someonFinca_Solano_Tempranillo_Crianzae who appreciated classical music and seventeeth century French literature, he also has enough money to collect art and antiques.  There was a good feel about this main character and the general set-up, which made me realise, very quickly, what had been wrong about the last few books I had read.  I wanted to be Benjamin Cooker and to enjoy his life, whereas I had no desire at all to be the characters in the other novels.   Transporting the reader to a better world, where they can be richer, more comfortable and experience more excitement (without the dangers – obviously) is an essential element in all fiction, even gritty fiction.  Putting the reader into a different skin, that of the main character, where they can be braver, funnier and generally more interesting and better appreciated, is equally important.  This, the authors, did very well.

The character of Benjamin Cooker (since we’re talking about characters) was understated but well-drawn, a perfectionist who couldn’t sleep because he was afraid of not getting a wine quite right in his famous guide, reserved to the point that he didn’t want to mention to his assistant that he had a daughter.   All the other characters – of which there were generally too many – paled into the background.   Like many fictional detectives, he had rather too many ‘very good friends’ who turned up conveniently when they were needed in the storyline.  Cooker’s wife was a bit of a Dora Wexford (see Ruth Rendell)  but she lacked Dora’s comfortable but defined personality.

The work was written in French by French writers and tranlated by Anne Trager,  into American English unfortunately, even though the Cooker character was supposed to be British.  This jarred, not only because of the inevitable Webster spellings and occasional American words like ‘convertible’ and ‘pick up’, but American concepts like ‘high schools’.  That apart, the English style was pedestrian, with many phrases linked with ‘and’, lots of reps and sentences all constructed in the same way.

I haven’t yet mentioned the thrust of the story, the plot.  That is because the thrust of the novel was so wrapped up in Cooker and his wine that the plot was difficult to discern and the sleuthing  impossible to follow.  The reader had to wade his/her way through about a third of the book before a crime occurred – a crime that was scientific, technical and very involved – and then through another third to get to a proper murder, which was never investigated in the usual sense.  The police did not feature at all.  There is no reason, of course, why all crime stories should be about murders and police, although they usually are.  However, Cooker was following all manner of random leads, with great enthusiasm, but they seemed to relate to his art collection, not towards solving the crime, and the link was never properly explained.  As a result, the novel lacked tension.

So would I recommend ‘Treachery in Bordeaux’?  For the feel good factor, yes.

(Image from Wikipedia.)