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.