The Sirens of Suspense

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The authors of the Winemaker Detective series are Epicures. Jean-Pierre Alaux is a magazine, radio and TV journalist when he is not writing novels in southwestern France. He is the grandson of a winemaker and exhibits a real passion for wine and winemaking. For him, there is no greater common denominator than wine. He gets a sparkle in his eye when he talks about the Winemaker Detective, which he coauthors with NoŽl Balen. NoŽl lives in Paris, where he shares his time between writing, making records, and lecturing on music. He plays bass, is a music critic and has authored a number of books about musicians in addition to his novel and short-story writing.


There are twenty-two books in the series so far (though only four 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 twelve 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. NoŽl is good a 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 translated 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? Any tips for authors who are going through this process?

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? What's the one wine you think people should try but rarely do?

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 Ch‚teau Angťlus would be a bottle to take through the pearly gates.


You both have considerable outside interests, for NoŽl, 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 focusses 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.


Tell us about COGNAC CONSPIRACIES and what's coming next for you.

For us, cognac and cigars are nearly inseparable. That said, it seemed natural that the series would include some intrigue in the region where magicians work those fine blends. In COGNAC CONSPIRACIES, the heirs to one of the oldest cognac estates in France face a hostile takeover by foreign investors. Our hero, the Winemaker Detective Benjamin Cooker is called in to audit the books, and in what he thought was a sleepy provincial town, he and his assistant Virgile have their loyalties tested. The book was an opportunity to explore some of the issues faced by family-owned estates, and in this one we pushed our two main characters a little to see how they stood up to the challenges.

Next for us in English will be MAYHEM IN MARGAUX, in which Benjamin Cooker faces a personal tragedy and we learn a lot about the darker side of making fine wines. That one is planned for a May release. Then in the summer, the Winemaker Detective will head to Armagnac, and in September to Paris. Meanwhile, we are working on new titles in French.





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Book he wishes he could read again for the first time: The works of the French writer Alphonse Daudet, who wrote more than LETTERS FROM MY WINDMILL.

What he's reading now: Marguerite Yourcenar's MEMOIRS OF HADRIAN.

Period in history he'd like to visit: The Middle Ages, when the way of life was freer and the precautionary principle didn't exist, going by the stories of Boccaccio.

Favorite independent bookstore: A bookstore called Mollat in Bordeaux. I write books just for the pleasure of seeing them in the window at Mollat.

His writing ambience: At my ch‚teau in southwestern France, with Chopin or Bach playing, near the fire in winter, outside in summer, looking out over a sea of vineyards.

If he could have one superpower: To travel from one end of the world to the other, and go back in time. I would have liked to chat with Plato, and attend the Olympics before they were all about money.

If he could invite four people to a dinner party: The French novelis Jean d'Ormesson, along with Colette, Jean Cocteau and James Dean.