Authors: Jean-Pierre Alaux,Noël Balen
Tags: #gourmet, #wine, #cozy mystery, #food, #whodunit, #European fiction, #European mysteries, #Beaujolais nouveau, #France, #gentleman detective, #French culture, #amateur sleuth
Praise for the Series
“The perfect mystery to read with a glass of vino in hand.”
, starred review
“The Winemaker Detective mystery series is a new obsession.”
“It is easy to see why this series has a following. The descriptive language is captivating... crackling, interesting dialogue and persona.”
“The authors of the Winemaker Detective series hit that mark each and every time.”
—Student of Opinions
“Fabulous sophisticated mysteries... lush descriptions... more than a reading adventure, it’s a reading experience.”
—The Discerning Reader
“Another clever and highly entertaining mystery by an incredibly creative writing duo, never disappointing, always marvelously atypical.”
“One of my favourite series to turn to when I’m looking for something cozy and fun!”
—Back to Books
“Wine lovers and book lovers, for a perfect break in the shadows of your garden or under the sun on the beach, get a glass of Armagnac, and enjoy this cozy mystery. Even your gray cells will enjoy!”
“Recommended for those who like the journey, with good food and wine, as much as, if not more than the destination.”
—Writing About Books
“The reader is given a fascinating look into the goings on in the place the story is set and at the people who live there, not to mention all the wonderful food and drinks.”
—The Book Girl’s Book Blog
“A quick, entertaining read. It reminds me a bit of a good old English Murder Mystery such as anything by Agatha Christie.”
—New Paper Adventures
A Winemaker Detective Mystery
Translated by Anne Trager
All rights reserved: no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.
First published in France as
Le vin nouveau n’arrivera pas
by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen
World copyright ©Librairie Arthème Fayard, 2005
English adaptation copyright ©2015 Anne Trager
First published in English in 2015
By Le French Book, Inc., New York
Translator: Anne Trager
Translation editor: Amy Richard
Proofreader: Chris Gage
Cover designer: Jeroen ten Berge
Trade paperback: 9781939474537
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Do not gaze at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup,
when it goes down smoothly!
In the end it bites like a snake
and poisons like a viper..
—Proverbs 23: 31–32
The guests were mingling on the lawn of the eighteenth-century manor house as the setting sun cloaked the sky in hues of orange and purple. A mild breeze rustled the leaves of the hornbeams lining the driveway.
“We could almost be in Versailles, Virgile,” Benjamin Cooker said. “The place is quite splendid, isn’t it?” He waved his glass toward the buffet. Covered in fine white linen, the table was topped with silver platters of hors-d’oeuvres: mouthfuls of puff pastry,
panna cotta au parmesan
, seafood delicacies, and sundry other finger foods. To the right of the platters were fine crystal glasses and a selection of wines.
“I suspect that’s where Bérangère Périthiard would rather be, boss, not here in Beaujolais, even if she is enjoying a regional cru.” Benjamin, one of France’s most notable wine experts, swirled and sipped the cherry-red Régnié and looked out over the lush vine-covered hills.
“You know the Aesop fable about town and country mice: better beans and bacon in peace—”
A piercing scream interrupted him. Everyone stopped talking and looked toward the winery. Benjamin and Virgile set down their glasses and started jogging in that direction, the gravel crunching under their feet.
Entering the half-lit building, they found Annabelle Malisset throwing up near a concrete tank. They rushed to help her, and she pointed to a maceration vat. Benjamin and Virgile climbed up the stainless-steel steps and peered into the open tank.
“There goes that vintage, boss.”
“Virgile, I believe we have more important things to worry about right now.”
When the rescue squad arrived and pulled out the body, it was bloated like a goatskin of stagnant wine, its limbs a deep purple, and its hair pasted like a viscous mask over a deformed face.
Three months earlier
Guillaume Périthiard admired himself in the Venetian mirror. With the satisfied smirk of a silver fox, he smoothed his gray sideburns. He studied the noble-looking wrinkles time had left on his forehead, around his eyes, and at the corners of his mouth—signs of his experience and accomplishments, he liked to think. But narcissistic moments like this were utterly private. He was too cunning to dwell on his looks or gloat about his money in public. He knew how jealous underlings were, how those without his standing harbored bitter feelings, and how the poor bore pathological hatred. He gave these people a ration of understanding smiles and occasional winks of solidarity. And in return, those he dealt with regularly appeared to hold him in esteem.
In fact, more than a year after the much-publicized sale of his empire to a Swedish group, Guillaume Périthiard’s former employees were still talking about him. The workers missed his good-natured approach, the managers his high standards, and the secretaries his gentle teasing. He never fooled anyone, but a paternalist taskmaster at the helm was better than a troop of spreadsheet-driven businessmen bent on ramming quarterly objectives down everyone’s throat.
Périthiard was patting his belly, which had grown rounder with the passing of each profitable year, when the phone rang, echoing in the living room of his mansion. He tightened the sash of his Daniel Hanson Italian silk dressing gown and hurried down the hallway. He found his cell on the beige leather sofa and picked it up. He recognized the voice at the other end and straightened his shoulders.
“I’ll be in your office at two,” he said, his voice hoarse and his cheeks flushed.
Périthiard said good-bye and entered a number on his phone. As he waited for a response, he looked out the window and frowned at the sight of his neatly trimmed hedges and the postcard-perfect neighborhood beyond them. When he ended the call, he turned around to find his wife, Bérangère, glaring at him in the doorway.
Benjamin Cooker glanced at the rearview mirror and noted the dark circles under his bloodshot eyes. He’d been sleeping poorly.
“Boss! Watch out!” Virgile shouted.
The convertible swerved, barely avoiding the tanker that had failed to put on its turning signal before changing lanes.
“You can say that again,” Benjamin said, tightening his grip on the steering wheel.
“Boss, I think perhaps… Well…”
“Spit it out, Virgile.”
“You’re driving a bit fast, if you ask me.”
“I didn’t ask you. We have an appointment at two p.m. on the nose. Punctuality is the politeness of kings, Virgile. You know I don’t like to be late.”
Benjamin’s assistant scowled and slid down in his leather seat. “Then you should let me drive, boss.”
From the look in her eyes, Guillaume Périthiard knew their second honeymoon was over. After thirty years on the battlefields of business, he had finally won the opportunity to spend more time with Bérangère, thanks to the three-billion-euro sale of his company. In reality, that meant more of her perfectly orchestrated dinners with stiff guests in exchange for satisfactory sex afterward. He had also taken up golf and made several unreasonable purchases of grand cru wines, collectable art, and rare watches, along with a top-of-the-line Italian coupe. He had built himself a new world composed of enjoyment, pleasure seeking, and a weekly meeting with his tax adviser.
He was seeing a bit more of his children, Thomas and Clarisse, enough to note that Bérangère had ensured their first-class education. Life could have been peaceful, harmonious, and enviable in their Versailles home, but after a few months, boredom had set in. Versailles, the wealthy suburb of Paris, had its greenery, fine residences, and famed tourist attractions. In truth, however, he had chosen to live there only because he was building his business. As grand as it was, Versailles didn’t satisfy him. In fact, it annoyed him. It was too orderly and conventional.
Périthiard missed the rolling hillsides of his childhood in Beaujolais, where his family had lived in a modest house in the village of Saint Amour Bellevue—a few hours from the city of Lyon. He recalled long winding bike rides, the gentle breeze coming down from the hills, and meandering walks in the vineyards that spread to the horizon. He would zigzag through the look-alike plots that stretched from Charnay to Saint Vérand and from Theizé to Jarnioux. He would hike from Lacenas to Arnas and from Quincié to Romanèche-Thorins and stroll past the gingerbread-hued stone buildings in the Pierres Dorées area—Beaujolais’s Tuscany, the land of the golden stones.
He missed the gruff faces of the wine growers, the rosy cheeks of the grape-picking girls, the cool calm of the cellars, the smell of the humus, and the buzzing of bees in the vines.
Feeling too young and rich to retire, Périthiard had ignored the warnings of his bankers and invested in a new venture. He was going to snub his nose at the all-powerful François Dujaray, Beaujolais’s top wine merchant, by buying out a competing wine
business. With Maison Coultard, he had no doubt that he would one day reign in the region’s wine trade.
Virgile was enjoying himself behind the wheel of his boss’s old 280SL, which was tuned like a Swiss watch. After the Montpellier tollbooth, he stopped at a service station to fill up on gas, down some overly sweet coffee from a plastic cup, and stretch his legs. When he returned to the car, Benjamin was waking up. The winemaker yawned and shifted in his seat, still looking fatigued.
“What time is it?” Benjamin asked, scratching his head.
“Don’t worry, boss. We’ve got plenty of time. And, really, the client can wait.”
“It’s not good policy to arrive on stage after the curtain rises—”
“I know you think he’s important, considering the way you cleared your schedule at a moment’s notice.”
“It’s a slow period anyway,” Benjamin said. “We don’t have much work in the lab, and Alexandrine can handle what little we have. She’ll call if she needs us.”
“And Jacqueline likes to have the office to herself,” Virgile added. “I’m sure Cooker & Co. will be just fine.”
“You’re right, and it’s a good opportunity to get away from Bordeaux.”
“Could you be feeling a bit lonely, boss, with Mrs. Cooker visiting Margaux in New York?”
“Is that because you miss your wife or because I mentioned your daughter?” Virgile asked.
Benjamin didn’t respond.
Picking up his boss’s silent cue, Virgile changed the subject. “What’s this Périthiard guy like?” he asked, turning the key to the ignition.
“To be honest, I’ve never met him. We exchanged a few e-mails, and I spoke to him on the phone this morning, when he asked us to meet with him. Other than that, I only know what I read in the papers.”
“He’s the one who founded that DIY chain, right?”
“Yes, Guillaume Périthiard is a self-made man. According to his PR people, he came from a modest family in Lyon. He didn’t even graduate from high school. He took a job in a tile factory as a teenager and worked his way up to general foreman in just three years. Afterward, he landed the coveted job of inventory manager, then acquisitions, and then sales. When the plant manager had some cash-flow problems and considered closing, Périthiard presented him with a plan to save the company. The bankers liked it. Périthiard took over management of the company and then bought a majority share.”
“He must be some kind of business genius.”
“That or charming, shrewd, and not much of a stickler for scruples. In any case, he was soon perceived as a visionary and natural leader. Once the business was his, it prospered, and at the age of twenty-five, he sold the tile factory to open a large-scale DIY store outside Villefranche-sur-Saône. From there, he built his own brand.”
“Do you think he was the one who came up with that kitsch logo—red letters on the yellow background?”
“Maybe. In any case, you see it all across France. The chain has ninety-three stores, and last year
named him entrepreneur of the year.”
“I will not leave Versailles,” Bérangère said in a tone closed to appeal.
Périthiard slipped his phone into the pocket of his dressing gown and gave his wife a cold look. She had shrugged when he bought the Maison Coultard
business and even smiled in a pinched-lip upper-class way that said: “A whim, my darling, not unlike the other whims you’ve entertained since your retirement.”
Now she was standing in the doorway, wearing her cream-colored skirt, light blue blouse, double-strand pearl necklace, and no smile.
He knew he should try to appease her. “You liked my cousin Sylvain when we’d go there on holiday, before the kids were born. I was almost jealous of him. Remember how we hiked up Mount Saint Rigaud? The country was so gorgeous, and the view was spectacular. We attended that village dance in Sarmentelles de Beaujeu and ate so much grilled sausage and local cheese on that rustic bread, you complained that you’d gain ten pounds.”
She looked away and began to walk slowly across the room. Bérangère was a master of the silent treatment.
“You didn’t think I would just play around with the business, did you?” Périthiard said, fully aware that this was going to be a hard sell—if not impossible. “I’d never be happy running it from a distance. And I’m going to be more than a négociant. It’s not enough to buy other people’s grapes and wine and bottle it for sale, as if it were my own. I’m planning to buy a wine estate in the Côte de Vaux or perhaps Saint Amour. I’ll be a real winemaker.”
“You know nothing about grape growing.”
“I couldn’t hammer a nail into a slab of butter, and yet look at the business I built.”
“Spare me the lines you used at your annual meetings. Whatever you do, I will never—do you hear me?—never bury myself in some muck-filled outback.”
They stared at each other. After a few minutes of this, he turned his back on her and left the room. He intended to quench his new thirst. The Périthiard name had never meant much with those who counted in the Beaujolais region, but it would. He had every intention of returning as the prodigal son and proving himself.