Authors: Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen

Translator: Sally Pane

Publisher:Le French Book



The gifted authors and translator of this novel don’t seem to be totally comfortable, and more than a little distracted, in the telling of a detective murder mystery. To be sure, the resolution, with Inspector Cluzel (Clouseau, anyone?) identifying the murderer from a room full of suspects follows a familiar template. But the corpse, which usually shows up very early on, makes a remarkably tardy appearance. The sifting through suspects is a bit limp when compared to the ink devoted to wines, spirits, and smokes. Indeed, the character of these consumables is explored with greater attention and affection than that of the characters themselves.

The authors would seem to be more comfortable writing for Gourmet, Saveur, or other epicurean periodicals than dealing with a tawdry crime among the vines. A lot of the plot is dealt with by a character’s re-telling of key events, thereby violating the ancient advice to authors to show, not tell. And more than once, the storyline is stopped dead in its tracks by historical annotations that might well serve as footnotes to a documentary, but substantially derail the essential narrative of a detective yarn.

All of this is a pity because both the authors and the translator are gifted writers. The translator does the authors great justice with a stylish, indeed, elegant, rendition of the original text. I particularly liked: “Elisabeth’s smile faded as her heart dropped to her heels.” Also: “And then? Virgile asked, turning his snifter around to gaze at the mysterious shapes forming in the depth of the brandy.” I did notice, however, that in London, a diner was presented with a “check” rather than the “bill” and that street locations were introduced with the American “on” rather than the British convention, “in.” Also, in this world of purists, would there be so many teabags hanging around? Throughout, however, the text was admirably edited.

There is much to admire in the authors’ treatment of the long living when not concerned with the recently dead. Particularly affecting is the effort of the wife of the chief snoop in dealing with her father-in-law. Weaning him off of his youthful exuberance for physical travel and his victimization by a grifter, in favor of the increasingly exciting world of electronic communication is very well done. For example: “How long had his father been wandering like a lost soul through the hallways lined with ancient books—crushed by the epilogue of his life?”

In the end, however, I found the book not nearly as well balanced as a great wine should be.