Red-handed in Romanée-Conti – Jean-Pierre Alaux , Noël Balen (Translated from the French by Sally Pane)

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“Benjamin knew that sometimes people were like wine. If they sat and breathed for a while, their full complexity could be revealed, even more so in the right environment and with the right people.”

Benjamin Cooker, a well-renowned enologist from Bordeaux, and his young assistant, Virgile, can read people pretty well. Yes, Benjamin knows the technical aspects of his craft better than most, but also knows how his clients tick.

His diplomatic abilities are challenged when he is called to Burgundy to assist in the harvest of one of the region’s most successful winemakers, Marcel Lemoine. As usual, he brings Virgile.

When they arrive they find that a hailstorm ruined much of the grapes throughout the region. Comparing winemaking to politics, Benjamin asserts, “In winemaking, the weather, the soil, and the seasons may work in your favor, but they can turn on you just as easily.” This not only affects the owners but all of the workers who depend on the industry for their living.

But what was also responsible for the low morale in the fields was the murder of a young, beautiful harvester,  Clotilde Dupont, who worked at Romanée-Conti, a neighboring vineyard. She was strangled at the deserted Saint-Vivant Abbey.

There are many possible suspects and Benjamin finds himself thrown into the middle of it. There is so much more that is uncovered though, from family strife to extortion and more.

In the midst of all of this, Benjamin is distressed about his elderly father who is engaged to his young nurse. Since he’s not around, his wife Elisabeth, has to handle the fiasco. That crazy situation evolves as the story continues

Red-handed in Romanée-Conti is not only a fun whodunit, but you’ll also learn about French wine culture. The story goes into the history of the vineyards, the workers who make the wines, and also the wines that they are drinking. You’ll taste the food and wine, and smell the aromas.

The characters are part of the enjoyment, like Virgile who tries to pick up on attractive female harvesters, and he and Benjamin play well off of each other.

Red-handed in Romanée-Conti will appeal to wine aficionados and is book twelve in the Winemaker Detective series . Personally, I hope to read more.

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