We are just putting the final touches on the first in a new culinary mystery series with mouth-watering excursions into the regions of France: Gourmet Crimes. Minced, Marinated, and Murdered is a deliciously authentic mystery novel offering a well-balanced blend of gastronomy and suspense. Author Noël Balen, who also pens the made-for-TV Winemaker Detective Series, has teamed up with Vanessa Barrot and created a new female sleuth for this series, which combines local reality and fiction, historical fact and culinary anecdotes, recipes and regional products, providing armchair travel, culinary delight, and mystery.
A New Winemaker Detective Mystery
The intricate taste of greed and remorse
In the mist-covered hills of Sauternes, where the wine is luscious and the landscape beguiling, the brutal murder of an elderly couple intrigues the wine expert Benjamin Cooker and awakens memories for his dashing assistant Virgile Lanssien. Drawn into the investigation, the two journey through the storied Sauternes countryside, where the Château d’Yquem has reigned for centuries. Will the murder go unexplained and the killer remain free? The Winemaker Detective’s discernment and incessant curiosity push investigators to look deeper, while Virgile rekindles memories of his days at school and questions the meaning of his life.
Praise for the series
“Magnificent series. Beautifully written. Fascinating characters. Intriguing story lines. Most entertaining reading I've done in many years. And, a bit educational as well. Reminded me of the Colin Dexter books and TV series about CDI Endeavor Morse.”
“If you love to read cozies, enjoy learning about different locales and wines and intriguing sleuths then you need to check out this mystery series.”
"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 descriptions of great French food and wine."
As we prepare for the upcoming release of the new Winemaker Detective mystery, Requiem in Yquem, we talked to the authors Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen.
In France, there are twenty-six books in the series so far (12 published to date in the U.S.), as the series grows and evolves, do you find it easier or more difficult to fall into the story and discover new and exciting plots?
Each book is an adventure in and of itself. It is hard to describe the process in terms of ease or difficulty. It is true that our characters are more familiar to us, and their personalities more present, and even more complex. At the same time, each plot requires us to explore a whole new lay of the land, which in the case of this series begins with the wine region where the story takes place. It is important that we invent new stories and new approaches, that we continue to find original ideas.
You have written together now for many years, as well as writing separately. Who does what in the partnership? What are the advantages?
Yes, it's been fifteen years now that we have written together, and both of us have our own approaches. Jean-Pierre also works as a reporter, and spends a lot of time out in the vineyards, tasting, and meeting people involved in winemaking, for whom it is a passion. Noël is good at refining the story, and the two of us together have learned what their respective qualities are, and where their weak spots lie. Working together in this way, striving for high standards, we advance without looking back, knowing that the world of winemaking has a wealth of stories to be told.
The series has been adapted to television. In the U.S., it's rare for an author to be allowed much input on the screenplay or casting. How has this experience been?
It's not that different in France. Here, the series has met with great success thanks in part to the actor, Pierre Arditi, who plays the main character, and to the producers, and they work closely together to make it what it is. We are not involved in the screenplay or the casting, which is frustrating, but the laws of TV are not those of literature. We learned this as we went along.
If you could only drink one wine for the rest of your life, which would it be?
It would have to be a Cahors wine. Wines from that region have improved so much in recent years. Jean-Pierre also admits a weakness for wines from Saint-Emilion. And a Château Angélus would be a bottle to take through the pearly gates.
You both have considerable outside interests, for Noël, music among other things, for Jean-Pierre, the sea. Do these inspire your mysteries?
Our mysteries are inspired primarily by the wines, wine regions, and winemakers that each book focuses on, but our other interests inevitably get woven into the stories, either in the form of details or more on the level of sensibilities, what a character will be attentive to or how a place will be described.
In another satisfying wine novel with a French flair, authors Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen give readers a perfectly intoxicating combination of French wine, gourmet meals, and mystery in the gloriously described Sauternes wine region with all the scenery, scents, and sounds of France.
Requiem in Yquem comes out on September 12.
We’ve put together some amazing things you get if you pre-order the book before September 12. Buy any format and you’ll get immediate access to:
- Bittersweet Delights: The lowdown on Bordeaux’s famous canelés, with a recipe and tricks for getting them right.
- Liquid Gold, a booklet with inside information about Sauternes wine and pictures from Château d’Yquem
- An extended excerpt, so you can start reading now.
WHAT DO I DO?
For those who want to catch up on the Winemaker Detective series before the new book comes out, we are running some deals on Amazon. Check it out. Click the pictures.
We recommend escaping into a story. And this week, we are participating in a cross-promotional giveaway. It's easy. It's free. Click the below button and you'll land on a page full of free mysteries and thrillers. Take your pick. About midway down, you'll find Frédérique Molay's Paris Homicide series prequel: Vital Links. Now is as good a time as any to get it and enjoy.
As in life, when you write a novel, at some point you will publish it, and then, you face either success or failure. David Khara, author of the Consortium thriller series, enjoyed instant success in France. Here, he shares some thoughts on coping. His advice applies to many endeavors.
You’ve been brave, you fought against yourself, against the odds, against those who told it would never happen, and here it is at last: your book is there, in front of you. It will be sold very soon, online or in bookstores. Now is the time for THE question: will it be successful?
Forget about that. I know it is hard, but you HAVE TO FORGET ABOUT IT.
Why forget? Because success doesn’t depend on you. Even if your book is pure genius, you never know what’s going to happen, so let go. Something good happens? Take it. Nothing happens? That is the fate of a huge majority of books. Of course, you can hope. Not hoping would be ridiculous. But if nothing happens, do not give up. Do not surrender, and do not start believing you have no talent. A professional has decided to publish your work, this should mean something. Maybe it wasn’t the right time, maybe too many good books were released at the same time, who knows.
Something else could happen: your book could be an amazing success. It could become impossible to open a magazine without seeing your face (this happens to very few writers). Stay calm. It doesn’t mean you’re the best. Maybe you were in the right place at the right time. And still, with success comes exposure and harsh criticism that will hurt your feelings. Put all this aside. Keep doing what you like, keep telling stories. Always imagine you’ll be writing for ten people. And do your best to bring these ten people the only thing that makes sense: entertainment.
Laurent Guillaume is a multiple-award-winning French writer and former police officer. In law enforcement, he worked anti-gang, narcotics, financial crimes, and served in Mali as an advisor to the local police. His first novel to be translated into English is a hard-boiled PI story set in West Africa: White Leopard. Here he tells us about how his life as a cop mixes with his life as a writer.
Does being a cop help to write a mystery novel?
It is both an asset and toxic. My novels necessarily borrow from reality, so being a cop is an advantage. But I also think it is a trap. In a mystery, the writer's main preoccupation has to be the plot.
In your novels, politicians are never very clean.
I think the quest for power has a negative impact on everyone who goes after it. Politics has the power to corrupt on many levels because it lives off of everything that is toxic in our society: money, dissimulation, and lies. One has to overcome so many obstacles to attain power that it becomes a kind of Grail, and overcomes its original raison d’être: public good. But there are politicians who are driven by a real sense of democracy, by honest political conviction and humanism. I like to believe that even the worst people can at certain times and under certain circumstances prove to have some purity. The opposite is true as well. It is just a matter of proportion.
You seem to leave the reader to judge. Is this done on purpose?
I don't like the idea of telling a reader how to think or what to like or not like about my novels. I don't judge, I tell a story. Moral judgments are for philosophers. All of my characters are made of shadow and light, like in life. You are free to love them or hate them for what they are. But I don't want them to leave you indifferent. Indifference is the harshest criticism.
Tell us a little something about the genre you chose for this book.
White Leopard is what I would call a “hard-boiled African” thriller. I went back to the codes of the 1930s-1940s hard-boiled detective novel (tough, alcoholic PI; the femme fatale who brings him a complicated, perilous case; etc.) and then I transposed them to contemporary Africa. And it worked.
What inspired you to write this book? Is it based on real events or your own experience?
When I worked at the French Embassy in Mali, I was in charge of police cooperation, particularly with regards to drug trafficking and organized crime. At the time, I worked on a case called “Air Cocaine” as a consultant for the Malian authorities. It didn’t take long to find some material for a good mystery in there. For that matter, a better part of the novel is based on real events.
Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne are the bestselling French authors of the Antoine Marcas mysteries (over 2 million copies sold worldwide). These high-action thrillers combine meticulous historical research with unusual plots and a compellingly complex hero. We asked the writing duo what it's really like.
It’s a curious experience, one that requires organization… and diplomacy. We take about nine months to write a novel: one month for the outline, two months of research, and the six remaining months writing.
When we come up with the outline, we see each other nearly every day. We set up the plot, balancing narration and characters, weaving in suspense, planning the cliffhangers. It’s meticulous work and often raises more questions than answers. At the same time, it’s a fascinating phase, as we watch a structure rise out of nothingness. It is both fragile and seductive, and in it, the novel will take root and blossom. It is also technical work, and we use a lot tools, from Excel sheets to mind maps, to help us better visualize the novel’s structure and see, for example, where it could be unbalanced. For example, a major character who doesn’t appear often enough in the narration quickly becomes problematic, and we can fix the problem right away. It's like being a goldsmith.
On the other hand, when we go into the research phase, the work is very solitary, because we have already defined who does what. It’s very exciting work, a mix of web research, hours spent in libraries, and travel, often abroad, to soak up an atmosphere or prepare descriptions.
Then comes the longer, harder work of writing. Shadow Ritual, as the first in the series, is a bit different than the others, which, like The Lafayette Sword, are built around two plot lines—one is contemporary with our protagonist, Inspector Antoine Marcas, while the other is historical, and can take place in the Middle Ages or during the French Revolution. We each are responsible for one of the plot lines, but the two have to be written at the same time in order to include foreshadowing and other effects that work like a system of echos, allowing our readers to go from one period of time to another smoothly.
So, at the same time, we each write two chapters, which we then exchange by email. This way, we can follow in real time the progression of the narrative, suggest changes and smooth out effects. This work also includes a key work of rewriting. Each of us has our own style. Eric, with his background as a reporter, likes short, nervous sentences, while I’m more of an academic, and prefer long, dense sentences. We don’t want our readers to feel like they are changing pace or tone, so we rewrite each other’s text. This requires a delicate touch, as writers are always very sensitive about their writing.
Our catalog has a couple of smart, modern spy thrillers by former top-level French intelligence officer and award-winning thriller writer Bernard Besson. His team of freelance operatives must unravel the consequences of global warming on the geopolitical landscape and discover the intricacy of high-frequency online trading. They struggle to maintain their independence where the loyalties of official agencies are not so clear and corruption and political machinations are everywhere.
I’m fascinated with this world of espionage and recently took a moment to review my conversations with Bernard to come up with a list of some modern rules of espionage.
- Ninety-five percent of an intelligence officer’s assignments consist of gathering information and verifying it. Computers and software, along with general knowledge and conversational skills are more useful in this area than guns.
- In today’s world, technology allows everyone to intercept everyone else’s communications. Official intelligence circles are only part of the problem. The greatest threat comes from the uncontrolled private espionage.
- Intelligence professionals must do more than intercept communications and messages. They have to analyze and understand the conversations they hear and the images they see.
- Information is not a spy’s only target. Another real strategic objective is to understand the other’s intentions and way of thinking. In June 1944, Hitler had a large reserve of SS Panzers in Belgium. The Allies knew this, but was Hitler’s intention to send them to Normandy? If he had done it right away, he would have held off the Allies. Fortunately, he did not and lost the battle. The Allies did not need to chase cars through the streets of Berlin to find out this kind of information. A spy needs to be in the trust of well-informed people.
- Classic techniques are still useful, such as using knowledge of the other’s methods to your own advantage. French national security agents have been using it at least as far back as the Hundred Years’ war that pit France against England in the fourteenth and fifteenth century.
- Gadgets and technology can come in handy, but since the times of Julius Caesar, King Louis XIV and Alexander the Great, spies have worked with their minds. The human brain has no equal as far as software goes, because of its capacity for emotion and its power of conviction. Spies are trying to guess the opponent’s strategy, confidence, personality, and beliefs.
- A good intelligence service is one that asks the right questions. Information itself is not hard to come by. What is difficult is knowing what you actually are looking for.
- A good spy is discreet, polite, attentive and has real common sense. He or she has to listen to the silence, what is not said, and notice the hesitations. A good spy is armed with patience and good general knowledge.
- Today, keeping things top secret is less important than being quick to think and to gather information.
Thanks, Bernard, for these insights.
Ben Macintyre wrote a fantastic book about the real-world spycraft, which I highly recommend: Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory.
In our world of rapid climate change, The Greenland Breach gives you an entirely different perspective on how we are all being impacted. The blood splattered on the ice sheets of Greenland belongs to shadow fighters, mercenaries fighting battles we don’t learn about on the evening news.
What about technological disruption? In The Rare Earth Exchange, you get a heart-pounding story that could have been ripped from the headlines. What happens when a grain of sand throws off the well-oiled international finance machine?