Small in size and easy on the eye, ear and virtual palette, the co-written Treachery in Bordeaux is a pleasant undertaking, light on action and suspense but generously laden with French atmosphere and extra flavor for the wine cognoscenti. In the U.S. debut of the first book in the Winemaker Detective Series already underway in France, translator Anne Trager has managed to retain the cadence of the French original with her understated and flowing narrative. Sentences that start out with documentary plainness suddenly branch out with a graceful, humorous ease, making one want to read the book in its original language.
Well-respected and successful winemaker and critic Benjamin Cooker is something of an amateur sleuth. He undertakes to help respected vintner and good friend Denis Massepain investigate the contamination of several barrels of new wine he is fermenting at his wine estate, Chateau Les Moniales Haut-Brion. The wine cellars are scrupulously clean and recently renovated, so accidental contamination is ruled out and sabotage suspected.
Benjamin is a man of curiosity and wide-ranging interests, and he and his new assistant, the young and goodlooking Virgile Lanssien, are soon knee-deep in grape-laden schemes to determine who might want to destroy Massepain’s wine and his longstanding reputation as a fine vintner.
Readers slow down a bit to accommodate Benjamin’s lifestyle, enjoying his obsession with collecting antiques, especially those associated with his trade. One such item he’s acquired is a painting, or overmantel, depicting the rural area around his own estate—and he discovers that it has a twin, another panel that connects it to a larger artwork. His efforts to track down the missing section lead to more discoveries, and this curious side-trip may connect back to the intrigue at his friend’s winery.
Treachery capitalizes on the attractions of the French countryside and its inhabitants, as they sip coffee at an outdoor café, toast a birthday with the proper vintage, light up an aromatic pipe or walk their dogs. Benjamin quiets his mind, for instance, by painstakingly polishing his shoes.
This genteel atmosphere, however, is shot through with disquieting signs that the rural beauty is fraying at the edges. Like the rest of the world, the Bordeaux region faces encroachment by seedy housing developments, traffic jams and tourism with its tacky accoutrements. This collision of old and new provides the book with its suspense quotient—for all those who love a mystery.