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A Bookish Conversation with Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noel Balen

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Jean-Pierre Noel BalenJean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen, wine lover and music lover respectively, came up with the idea for the Winemaker Detective series while sharing a meal, with a bottle of Château Gaudou 1996, a red wine from Cahors with smooth tannins and a balanced nose. The series has 24 titles to date and is a hit TV series in France. So far 10 have been translated. Jean-Pierre Alaux currently lives in southwestern France and Noël in Paris. They both are full-time writers and participate in the TV adaptation of their series.

Translator Sally Pane studied French at State University of New York Oswego and the Sorbonne before receiving her Masters Degree in French Literature from the University of Colorado. She has translated several titles in this series.

And Anne Trager has a passion for crime fiction that equals her love of France. After years working in translation, publishing and communications, she founded the mystery and thriller publishing house Le French Book, dedicated to picking top mysteries and thrillers from France and translating them into English.

Their latest book is the cozy mystery, The Winemaker Detective: An Omnibus.

For More Information

About the Book:

An immersion in French countryside, gourmet attitude, and light-hearted mystery.

The Winemaker DetectiveTwo amateur sleuths gumshoe around French wine country, where money, deceit, jealousy, inheritance and greed are all the ingredients needed for crime. Master winemaker Benjamin Cooker and his sidekick Virgile Lanssien solve mysteries in vineyards with a dose of Epicurean enjoyment of fine food and beverage. Each story is a homage to wine and winemakers, as well as a mystery.

In Treachery in Bordeaux, barrels at the prestigious grand cru Moniales Haut-Brion wine estate in Bordeaux have been contaminated. Is it negligence or sabotage?

In Grand Cru Heist, Benjamin Cooker’s world gets turned upside down one night in Paris. He retreats to the region around Tours to recover. He and his assistant Virgile turn PI to solve two murders and very particular heist.

In Nightmare in Burgundy, a dream wine tasting trip to Burgundy that turns into a troubling nightmare when Cooker and his assistant stumble upon a mystery revolving around messages from another era.

This made-for-TV series is “difficult to forget and oddly addictive” (ForeWord Reviews).

For More Information

  • The Winemaker Detective: An Omnibus is available at Amazon.
  • Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

Q&A with Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen, creators of the Winemaker Detective

How did you start writing a crime fiction series?

We wanted to explore a specific theme—wine and winemaking—from a variety of different perspectives. In the Winemaker Detective series, it is clear that each wine region deserves a different approach. By having recurring characters that see and observe the different regions and wine estates, we create consistency and a link between the different whodunit stories.

Your characters are very attaching. How do they evolve?

No matter what you do as a writer, characters eventually take over and do what they want. They evolve with the series because they reflect life. Everybody changes because life makes you change, even when you keep your initial values and character traits. So like anybody, our characters mature, become wiser in some areas, more experienced, or let themselves go, or cannot overcome their pain or refuse to face life head on. Since we began writing the series, our central character, the winemaker detective Benjamin Cooker, has grown, become more complex and taken on a life of his own, thanks in part to the French television series in which actor Pierre Arditi embodies him remarkably.

How much reality do you include in your books?

Generally speaking, we do our best to respect the reality of our settings. We go to the various wine regions, take pictures, get a feel for the place, and use local and historical documents. Many of the wines estates, restaurants and even hotels are all real. Sometimes the plot requires that we invent places where crimes have occurred, so that we don’t ruin the reputations of real places. For the plot, the key is finding a rather subtle balance between what is real, what seems real, and what is invented and improbable. But, you must also be wary of reality, as it is often much tougher, crueler and more sordid than anything you could imagine. Curiously, you sometimes need to lighten up reality for it to remain credible in a story.

How do you check your facts?

We do a lot of reading, using specialized books, and online research. We call on experts (winemakers, toxicologists, police officers, ballistics specialists, historians). Experience helps, making it easier and quicker to do the research. We also know many winemakers and winegrowers, with whom we check details. Both of us are careful about verifying our sources.

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