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The Winemaker Detective by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen

I received a pre-publication uncorrected proof copy of “The Winemaker Detective” by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen, translated into English by Le French Book translators Anne Trager and Sally Pane.  The paperback version was published in English translation in December 2015.  This French cozy mystery is aimed at those who enjoy “Murder She Wrote” type plots in French wine country settings.  Like “Murder She Wrote” the books in the Winemaker Detective Series are being made into a successful television series seen in France and other French-speaking countries.  This collection includes the first three books in the series.

Each book represents an independent plot tied together with two amateur detectives and winemakers, Benjamin Cooker and his young employee, Virgile Lanssien.  Cooker is a fifty-something product of a French mother and British father.  He grew up in London but spent his summers on the acreage owned by his French grandparents, which he eventually inherited.  Cooker is a curious mixture in personality, temperament and interests of his Franco-Britsh heritage.  He spends a lot of his time driving around the French countryside in his beloved Mercedes exploring different wine-making regions and reviewing the best vintages in each one.  Along the way he runs into many eccentric and a good many shady characters.  The plots include industrial sabotage of the product of a winemaker in Bordeaux; the murder of a call girl and a hotel clerk, and theft of fine wines in the Loire Valley; and the murder of two graffitti artists in Burgundy.

Each book is highly descriptive.  Those who enjoy travel will get to know the French wine regions quite well through  Cooker’s adventures.  The plots are intriguing, as well, so that it is easy to see why this mystery series makes for successful television in France.  I have to admit, however, that some of the detective work drags on as Cooker and Virgile find themselves retracing their steps in order to pick up new pieces of information, and there is not a lot of  action.  The pace is more sedate than I generally like– again, rather like episodes of “Murder She Wrote”.

Still, the series will have wide appeal within the British and American mystery-reading market, and particularly for those who enjoy a bit of armchair travel and lots of detailed descriptions of great French food and wine.

I give “The Winemaker Detective” French cozy mystery compilation a one-thumb up.

Liz Nichols


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Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles by A L Herbert

Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles” is the first in “A Mahalia Watkins Soul Food Mystery” series. The sleuth in this cosy “food” mystery is Mahalia Watkins, owner of purportedly the best restaurant in Prince Georges County, Maryland.  The book contains mouth-watering recipes for what can only be described as gourmet soul food such as “Halia’s Sweet Corn Casserole.”

Halia, not surprisingly, also becomes a sleuth to solve a murder that takes place in her restaurant after she finds out that her cousin is the prime suspect.  Halia knows that her cousin did not commit the murder but the police seem to stop investigating once they focus on the cousin, Wavonne.  Halia also has a vested interest in turning the heat away from her kitchen because she and Wavonne are guilty of tampering with the body and other evidence when they decide to move the body to the back alley and away from the restaurant.

The Mahalia-Wavonne pair remind me of Stephanie Plum and Lula in the Evanovich series in the zany relationship between the two main characters and the hair-brained capers they engage in.  Somehow, though, I mind more that Watkins and her cousin skirt on the other side of the law and try to justify their law-breaking, than I do when Plum and Lula rationalize similar brushes with the law.  I really do not buy Mahalia’s justification for tampering with evidence, let alone covering up her cousin’s theft of the dead guy’s credit cards and use of those cards to buy expensive goods.  I lose empathy with characters who skate that far outside the law, frankly and it significantly detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

Nonetheless, the writing and characters in “Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles” are engaging, and I anticipate I will pick up and review the next book in this series when it comes out.  There will be many others who will be enthusiastic about this new food mystery/cosy series.  This series is particularly significant in that I cannot recall another where the main characters are black and it is set in an area that is primarily African-American.  It is about time!

Liz Nichols

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