Flanked by a quirky cast of characters, this intriguing novel features two amateur detectives who set out to solve the murder of a winemaker.
When the heir to one of France’s long-established Cognac wineries drowns, a question arises: was it an accident or a homicide? Cognac Conspiracies is the fifth installment in the Winemaker Detective series, originally written in French and based on a successful television series in France. The books feature Benjamin Cooker, a wine expert, and his assistant, the vivacious Virgile.
In this part of the ongoing story, Benjamin and Virgile travel to the Charente region to audit the books of the Lavoisier Winery. The winery had been in the Lavoisier family for decades; as the parents are deceased, the winery has passed into the hands of the now-adult children, Marie-France, Pierre, and Claude-Henri. Inexplicably, Claude-Henri moved to Canada and sold his share to an Asian businessman, who seems interested in becoming a majority shareholder, possibly via a hostile takeover. But no one is more hostile than Marie-France, who refuses to cooperate with Benjamin.
During his stay in the beautiful French countryside, Benjamin runs into his old girlfriend, Sheila, who tends roses nearby. The two haven’t seen each other for decades, and there is an undercurrent of feelings still between them.
The book is slim, but it is easy to see why this series has gained a following. The depiction of the French countryside enhances the story line. The setting on a French country estate has a certain Gothic element, and the descriptive, flowery language is captivating.
Benjamin is an elegant, upper-crust sort, perhaps a little snobby, who appreciates the finer things of life: wine, women, gourmet food. Virgile is the Holmes to Benjamin’s Watson, serving up the more crackling and interesting dialogue and persona.
Sexual undertones and innuendos pervade the book, including the suggestion of an incestuous relationship between Marie-France and her brothers.
The mystery itself is not very taxing to unravel since the plot is not overly complicated, and apart from a few suspects, the resolution of the mystery is no great surprise. Still, despite this being a murder mystery, it is a breezy read, and quite enjoyable.
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