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Adult Fiction So This is Paris

So This is Paris: Nightmare in Burgundy

Welcome! If you’re new here I’ve been featuring French books in honor of my daughter’s trip to Europe. You’re just in time to hear about Nightmare in Burgundy, part of the Winemaker Detective series.

His head nightmare_cover_480_300was spinning. For three hours now, he had been sitting at the table between the wife of the ambassador to the Netherlands and a film star whose name he dared not ask for fear of offending her. He vaguely remembered having seen her in a period piece where she played the harpsichord in a château full of mirrors and china. He had to lean in a bit to exchange a few words with the guests across from him. Bunches of red and yellow tulips cluttered the tables. People smiled at each other between the stems.

The dinner was sumptuous, as elegant as it was generous. You could read the satisfaction on the faces of the guests. As the feast continued, attitudes relaxed, looks of collusion replaced polite nods, and witty remarks cut the air with great panache. After savoring a duck pâté accompanied by a Bourgogne Aligoté des Hautes Côtes, perch supreme served with a chilled and fragrant Meursault, and crown loin of veal sprinkled with green peppercorns, along with a 1979 Côte de Beaune Villages, the guests thought the meal was finished. But this was underestimating the hos- pitality of the venerable knights of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin. A cockerel and morel fricassee seasoned with Chambolle-Musigny added to the feast, and no one had trouble finishing it. Meanwhile, the Cadets of Bourgogne, decked out in black caps and wine-merchant aprons, had accompanied the arrival of each dish with a great many wine songs, comical tales, and jovial melodies. Beaming, with sparkling eyes and gleaming whiskers, they bellowed verse after verse at the top of their lungs.

Always drinkers, never drunk,

They go along their way

And thumb their nose at fools who grump.

Always drinkers, never drunk,

They happily proclaim

Their credo without shame.

Always drinkers, never drunk,

They go along their way!

The cheese course was announced. Platters arrived filled with creamy Epoisses washed in marc brandy and aged on rye straw, a soft farmhouse Soumaintrain cheese, mild Saint-Florentin that gave off the scent of raw milk, lightly salted and creamy Chaources, and supple La-Pierre-qui-Vire. Accompanying them were small rounds of goat’s milk cheese, including an especially full-bodied tomme du Poiset. To top it off and honor this Chapter of the Tulips, the hosts had elegantly slipped in some soft Dutch cheese with amber and orange hues. Benjamin Cooker pre-pared a nice plate for himself, enhancing it with a 1972 Latricières-Chambertin that sensuously tickled his taste buds.

Here come the Cadets of Burgundy,

Sowers of life and of sun;

Lovers of water are mad.

Here come the Cadets of Burgundy,

A bottle in each hand!

Open the door to some fun

Here come the Cadets of Burgundy,

Sowers of life and of sun!

 

The chamberlain stepped to the podium. The association’s slogan—Never whine! Always wine—was inscribed above it in gothic letters.

He tapped the microphone, waited for the brouhaha to subside, and greeted the assembly. He congratulated the chef for the excellent dinner and declared the meeting of the Chapter of Tulips open. Then, in a solemn voice, he briefly praised Benjamin Cooker, introducing him as the most recognized wine specialist in France and one of the most sought-after winemakers in the world. He spoke of the Cooker Guide, whose publication all vintners dreaded, and emphasized that the most recent edition had excellent evaluations of certain Vougeots. Finally, he invited the inductee to join him on the stage, next to the members of the association whose gold and red vestments shimmered in the spotlight.

There was a ripple of applause. Leaning on the edge of the table, Cooker rose slowly. He emptied his glass of water, discreetly loosened his bowtie, tugged down the jacket of his tuxedo, and made his way between the tables. He felt the weight of all the eyes turned toward him and slowed his pace a bit for fear of getting tangled in the train of an evening gown or tripping on a chair as he made his way to the dais. He was welcomed with a quotation recited with good-natured pomposity. The crudeness of its kitchen Latin made all the guests laugh.

Totus mundus trinquat cum illustro pinot Imbecili soli drink only water!

So, Brother Cellarer, fill our cup Because, as the saying goes: in vino veritas

Cooker was handed a chalice. He emptied it and proceeded to the dubbing, which fell somewhere between schoolboy farce and ritual solemnity. He swore fidelity to the wines of France and Burgundy and then bowed his head while the grand master of the order tapped his shoulder with a vine shoot.

By Noah, father of the vineBy Bacchus, god of wine

By Saint Vincent, patron of vintners

We dub you Knight of the Tastevin!

Cooker was then invited to take the microphone. He looked over the assembly, and a silence as thick as a wine coulis filled the room. One last clearing of the throat, and his voice resounded under the enormous girders of the wine warehouse.

“Grand Chamberlain of the Order of the Knights of Tastevin, Grand Constable and all of you, knights of the brotherhood, ladies and gentlemen, good evening!”

 

Wow. That’s some kind of party, non? Here’s the wine route in Burgundy.

Burgundy

 

The wine tasting room.

wine-tasting-valdeloire

Everyone has one of those, right?

Until tomorrow.

Eiffel Tower Unconventional Librarian

 

 

 

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So This is Paris

So This is Paris: Grand Cru Heist Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen

Here’s another fun title. Grand Cru Heist. In FACT I’m reading this title right now on the beach!

grandcru_cover_360_225-187x300

Let’s take a peek inside and see what this little gem is about:

Renowned wine critic Benjamin Cooker’s world gets turned upside down one night in Paris. He retreats to the region around Tours to recover. There, a flamboyant British dandy, a spectacular blue-eyed blond, a zealous concierge and touchy local police disturb his well-deserved rest. From the Loire Valley to Bordeaux, in between a glass of Vouvray and a bottle of Saint-Émilion, the Winemaker Detective and his assistant Virgile turn PI to solve two murders and a very peculiar heist. Who stole those bottles of grand cru classé?

Interested?

Bien, let’s read an excerpt.

At the bottom of the valley, the Indre River flowed through patches of reverent willow trees. It was January, but it felt like an aging autumn in this part of the Touraine region. Lazy cows grazed in the pasture, just as they had in the summer. From the terrace of the Château de La Tortinière, Benjamin Cooker stared at the blurry lines of the landscape. In the distance, the Montbazon castle showed off its tower from another era. The Virgin Mary that rose above the edifice would have been demoralized by the ruins of the fortress. Recently, city workers had pulled off the ivy that had overgrown the fortifications, perhaps offering some redemption to the copper statue.

“Rest.” Everyone—his doctors, of course, but also Elisabeth, Margaux, Virgile, and the others— kept saying the same thing. Sometimes Benjamin Cooker showed worrisome symptoms, with long silences that nobody dared to interrupt.

“This kind of attack is a violation, Mr. Cooker,” a psychiatrist had told him in the hospital. “You will need weeks, perhaps even months to move on.”

Cooker had closed his eyes. He was not convinced that Grangebelle, his retreat-like home in the Médoc, was the ideal spot for his convalescence. He needed new surroundings and new people.

He told Elisabeth and Virgile that he had chosen the Touraine because he still had a lot to learn about the wines in that region. He had visited the Loire River valley several times in the past. Vouvray, Bourgueil, and DomainedelatortiniereChinon had pleased his palate, and he had often promised himself that he would explore this area further. It was known as France’s garden, and the vineyards grew in the shadow of stone lacework castles. His stroke of bad luck had actually become an ideal pretext to wander the vineyards, even though they were bare at this time of year.

[…]

At Château de La Tortinière, Cooker knew he would find the solitude he needed to get over his fear of driving in cities and people asking him fora light. But he didn’t quite know how he would get through the weeks ahead of him.

He dropped into a rattan chair that beckoned in front of the balustrade. He wasn’t feeling faint, but he did need to catch his breath. Cooker was about to ask for a glass of water but thought better of it. The concierge, Gaétan, was right there, looking concerned.

“It’s nothing. I’d like a Bourgueil from the Domaine du Bel Air. Do you have some?”

He felt better when he saw Gaétan rush off, taking the stairs two at a time and then returning promptly. Cooker seemed to regain his sense of self before the wine glass was even full of the dark red liquid. He lifted the glass to his nose, while Gaétan, looking like a dignified Greek statue on a spacious estate, held the bottle, waiting for a verdict that would be brutally honest. The winemaker sniffed aromas of berries and spices and picked up a few woody notes before bringing the glass to his lips. He savored the Bourgueil with the mannerisms of an experienced wine taster. He rolled the mouthful like a billiard ball on a pool table, lining his palate so as not to miss any of the full, round, ripe tannins in this excellent wine. From time to time, he clicked his tongue to refine his judgment. The concierge waited for the final decision. Cooker patted the chair next to him, beckoning the young man to sit down.

[…]

domaine-2Cooker and Gaétan chatted until the sun had disappeared behind La Tortinière’s turrets. Cooker could no longer see Montbazon, and the cows had disappeared from the pasture as if by magic. The winemaker felt a chill and returned to his room. He would order dinner from room service before calling it a night. Tucked in his pocket was the hotel chef’s recipe for saffron honey ice that Gaétan had gotten for him. Elisabeth would enjoy it.

Cooker went to sleep with Madame de Mortsauf. He had stopped at an antique book stand in the city of Tours and picked up a leather-bound copy of Honoré de Balzac’s The Lily of the Valley that, curiously, had been used to dry flowers. Yellowed linden leaves and flower petals garnished every chapter, like exquisite bookmarks. The book gaveoff faded floral aromas, and Cooker devoured the novel. La Tortinière was his. He was alone in this manor that smelled of wax polish and holly. The owners lived in another building a hundred yards away.

I know, right? Can’t wait.  Aren’t the photos lovely?

Until next time, a bientot!

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Categories
Books So This is Paris

So This is Paris: Deadly Tasting Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen

What fun I have for you today!

We get to experience another new title from Le French book. This title, Deadly Tasting750x1200, isn’t due to be released in print until October; but look at you: you get a sneak preview now!

Let’s take a look:

Drinking unsweetened Darjeeling tea was not a problem. Resisting the three crispy little biscuits taunting him from the white porcelain dish was another thing. The evening before, his wife had told him the time had come to shed the extra pounds that were making his shirts gape between the buttons. Benjamin Cooker had, indeed, filled out a bit over the past few months. He preferred to think that his heavy neck and chin, full cheeks, prominent belly, and belt hooked in the first notch gave him the look of a bon vivant, a well-off and satisfied man in his fifties.

Elisabeth Cooker, however, did not agree. The extra weight wasn’t good for his looks or his health, so she had taken matters into her own hands. She had gotten hold of a cabbage soup diet purportedly prescribed by the cardiology department of a large urban hospital for obese patients who needed to lose weight before surgery. Elizabeth had cut a large head of cabbage, four slivers of garlic, six large onions, a dozen peeled tomatoes,six carrots, two green peppers, one stalk of celery, and plunged them into three quarts of water with three cubes of fat-free chicken broth. The mixture, seasoned with salt, pepper, curry powder, and parsley, had been boiled for ten minutes and then simmered until all the vegetables were tender. Benjamin was supposed to eat this soup whenever he was hungry over the course of seven days. It was not meant to be the only source of nourishment, and to avoid nutritional deficiencies, he would be allowed fruits, additional vegetables, rice, milk, or a piece of red meat, depending on the day.

The first day promised to be especially grueling. Other than the soup, fruit was all that Benjamin was permitted. And that was limited. He couldn’t have any bananas. Benjamin surmised they were too tasty for this Spartan regimen. For drinks he could only have unsweetened tea, natural fruit juice, and water. The wine expert had initially rebelled, citing his professional obligations, upcoming wine tastings, and business lunches. Elisabeth had responded by giving one of his love handles an affectionate pinch. Surrendering, he had leaned over her and planted a grumpy kiss in the hollow of her neck.

There were only a few patrons on the terrace of the Café Régent in downtown Bordeaux, and the damp morning foreshadowed the first chill of fall. Benjamin drank his scalding-hot tea,reached for the small white dish without looking at the perfectly golden crust on the biscuits, and offered it to the person at the next table: an elderly lady with hair pulled back in a bun who was attentively reading the last pages of the local daily newspaper, the Sud-Ouest, which contained the weather forecast and the horoscopes. She thanked him and gobbled the pastries in three quick bites. He stood, nodded good-bye, and resolutely took off toward the Allées de Tourny.

He was about to climb the large staircase to his office when a digital toccata rang out from the cell phone deep inside the pocket of his Loden. He dug the device out, pressed the answer button, and Inspector Barbaroux’s gravelly voice assaulted his eardrum. Getting straight to the point without so much as a greeting, the police inspector asked Benjamin to come immediately to 8B Rue Maucoudinat. The detective had a clipped, authoritative tone, perhaps to give away as little information as possible. Irritated, Benjamin made a quick about-face and headed for the Saint Pierre neighborhood. He was not in the habit of complying so swiftly, and he was almost angry with himself for doing what the captain wanted without getting any explanation.

Arriving at the Place Camille Jullian, Benjamin spotted two police cars blocking the narrow street, their doors wide open and lights flashing. An ambulance was parked nearby. The street hadalso been cordoned off. A uniformed officer recognized Benjamin from afar and unhooked the crime-scene tape to let him pass. He explained that the captain was waiting for him on the third floor of the small building at the corner of the Rue des Trois Chandeliers. Other police officers were holding back a crowd of onlookers, many of whom were standing on their toes to catch a glimpse of whatever was happening behind the flowerpots on the balcony. Benjamin rushed up the two flights of wooden stairs without so much as holding onto the railing and made his way down the hall where two plainclothes detectives were talking with a woman in a white coat. They all turned and looked him up and down without a word.

“Hello,” Benjamin panted. “I believe the inspector is expecting me.”

“I don’t know if he can be disturbed,” said one of the men. “Access to the area is prohibited.”

“This way, Mr. Cooker,” Barbaroux bellowed from inside the apartment.

In the hallway, an empty gurney sat next to an umbrella stand, which was also empty. The wallpaper, with tedious rows of droopy floral bouquets, oozed a musty odor. Faded prints of religious scenes, shepherds on the heath, and dove hunters added little charm to the stuffy dark tunnel that opened onto a cramped living room furnished in birch veneer.

“Sorry to trouble you, but I needed to see you right away,” the inspector said, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his trousers. “Thanks for coming so quickly.”

“What happened?” Benjamin asked, overlooking the fact that Barbaroux hadn’t bothered to shake his hand. “It must be serious if you’ve blocked the road off.”

“Everyone says you’re the most brilliant wine expert of your generation,” Barbaroux said.

“Some even claim that you’re one of the best in the world. Is that true?”

“You didn’t bring me here to shower me with compliments, I hope.”

“Don’t think I’m being sarcastic, Mr. Cooker. That’s not my style. But it happens that I need your expertise right now.”

The woman in the white coat came into the room. Her hand was raised, and she appeared to be asking permission to cut the conversation short. Two morgue attendants wearing serious expressions were standing behind her.

“My team has finished, Chief. Can we remove the body now?”

“You haven’t forgotten anything?” Barbaroux growled.

“Everything’s ready to go. We have what we need.”

“What about those samples we rushed to the lab?”

“They should be getting back to you any minute.”

“In that case, get him out of here!”The men pushed a gurney through a doorthat Benjamin had not noticed before, leaving it open as they attempted to lift the half-naked and bloody body. It took several tries, and at one point they almost dropped the corpse. The wine expert averted his eyes and made a sign of the cross.

“Jules-Ernest Grémillon, ninety-three years old,” said Barbaroux. “Not a bad age to die.”

“Are you going to tell me what happened in this apartment or not?”

“Do you really want to know?” he asked, looking Cooker in the eye. “Well then, follow me.”

They went into the kitchen, which looked hardly bigger than a few square feet. The floor, laminate counter, and wall tiles were splattered with dark stains that looked nearly black, except where the dim ceiling light reflected ruby red spots. Cooker felt his stomach lurch, and he was grateful there wasn’t much in it. He frowned.

“Total carnage!” Barbaroux said. “The old man was butchered like a pig. What a mess! According to preliminary findings, the victim tried to defend himself before he was struck. Itlooks like the killer attacked quickly. Over there, the clean dishes on the drain board fell onto the dirty dishes in the sink. They’re all smashed. Andthere, the pans were knocked off the hooks. A box of macaroni is spilled all over the floor.”

Benjamin looked on without a word, trying to control the revulsion he felt in this ravaged, bloodstained kitchen, a repugnant cesspool where the most barbaric violence had mixed with the ordinary misery of everyday life.

“But the strangest thing, Mr. Cooker, is behind you,” the inspector said, touching the winemaker lightly on the shoulder. “Turn around. I want you to see this. Odd, isn’t it?”

On a small wooden table wedged behind the door, right beside the refrigerator, a dozen wine glasses were arranged in a semicircle. Only one, the glass on the extreme right, was full.

(cue scary music).

Wow. I’d better watch myself with my wine, right? See you next time!

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