Cognac Conspiracies by Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen


Cognac Conspiracies by Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen
Publisher: Le French Book
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (109 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Hawthorn

The heirs to one of the oldest Cognac estates in France face a hostile takeover by foreign investors. Renowned wine expert Benjamin Cooker is called in to audit the books. In what he thought was a sleepy provincial town, he is stonewalled, crosses paths with his first love, and stands up to high-level state officials keen on controlling the buyout. Meanwhile, irresistible Virgile mingles with the local population until a drowning changes the stakes.

A venerated cognac producer with a long history, Chinese investors, interesting family dynamics and a suspicious death make for a compelling read.

The added bonus of this cozy mystery is the atmosphere the authors create and the landscape descriptions. Reading Cognac Conspiracies is like visiting the Cognac region, so vivid is the setting. The text is imbued with a certain ‘Frenchness’ that gives it a special charm. On top of that, the reader gets a lesson on cognac, wines and winemaking.

Although this mystery was rather easy to solve, the characters in this series are anything but simple. Particularly the relationship between Benjamin Cooker and his assistant Virgile is intriguing. The appearance of an old flame of Benjamin’s also revealed new aspects of his character. The Lavoisier family is another bunch of compelling characters, but I was disappointed in how vaguely Benjamin’s wife was characterized. I’d love to know more about her.

Cognac Conspiracies is a quick read, with a story that moves along at a fast pace so that it never loses the reader’s interest. But particularly at the beginning, the time frame was a bit confusing and I had to re-read certain passages about the history of the Lavoisier family to understand the timeline.

Cognac Conspiracies is the fifth book in the Winemaker Detective Series but can easily be read as a standalone. It’s a quick, fun read with entertaining characters and little drama.

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