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The Sirens of Suspense




Anne Trager is the founder and president of Le French Book. This publishing house brings mysteries and thrillers from France to new readers across the English-speaking world – this month, they are releasing The City of Blood, a police procedural in the best-selling Paris Homicide series. Anne comes from a background in translation and publishing and has an irrational love for France, good food, and crime fiction. She has translated several of Le French Book’s titles.


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 Noël Balen. Noël 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.


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I’ve grown very fond of the Winemaker Detective series by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen. This cozy mystery series combines three passions of mine: France, good food and wine, and mysteries. What more could I ask for? The mysteries are always light, the main characters witty, and the descriptions of places and tastings genuine. In the books we follow Benjamin Cooker, wine consultant and author of the famed Cooker Guide, and his assistant Virgile Lanssien as they gumshoe around French wine country. For fun, I thought I’d put together my ideal trip to France following their footsteps.



Any France trip would start in Paris. There, I would do what Virgile does when he goes to the capital: the steeples of Notre-Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the esplanade of the Louvre, and the sugar-coated pastry: Sacré Coeur viewed from the top floor of the Centre Georges-Pompidou. And then I would wander around the Montmartre neighborhood—the Place du Tertre, the Place des Abbesses, the butte—where Benjamin Cooker likes to stroll. Make sure to stop at the Montmartre Cemetery, which is full of famous names, including Marie-Antoine Carême, the founding father of French classical cuisine. Of course, in Montmartre Mysteries (which comes out in September), Cooker takes in the only vineyard you will find in Paris: Clos Montmartre, and describes the annual harvest festival held in October. When in Paris, have a meal at La Cagouille, one of Cooker’s favorite restaurants.



After Paris, I would head to Burgundy, stopping in Beaune to visit the Hospices, the go to the Cîteaux Abbey and the Château du Clos du Vougeot. Nightmare in Burgundy begins with a memorable scene set there in which Cooker is knighted into a very real brotherhood, the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.


Loire Valley

The next stop would be the Loire Valley. There, independent of Cooker and Virgile, I would visit the royal castle in Blois (my absolute favorite), and stop in Amboise to visit both the castle there and Leonardo da Vinci’s residence, the Clos Lucé. In Grand Cru Heist, Cooker gets carjacked in Paris and retreats to the Loire Valley to recuperate with a Vouvray cure. Our translation editor, Amy, and I have followed his footsteps to the letter, and recommend two additions to any tour of Loire Valley king’s castles: Stay at the Domaine de la Tortinière and visit La Taille aux Loups for a wine tasting.


Cognac country

I would go on to Jarnac, in the Charente region, because Cooker and Virgile go there in Cognac Conspiracies, and because it has been a “haut lieu of cognac production since the eighteen hundreds and birthplace of former French President François Mitterand.”



Finally, it would be time for Cooker’s home town, Bordeaux. Any trip to Bordeaux should take in the city’s neoclassical Golden Triangle, bounded by three boulevards—Cours Clemenceau, Cours de l’Intendance, and Allées de Tourny. Don’t miss the citadel called Blaye, located across the Gironde estuary from Bordeaux. It is worth taking the ferry across to the right bank of the Gironde, as Benjamin did, parking in the downtown lot, going through the king’s gate, and taking the bridge to the ramparts. I would recommend this excursion in addition to an outing to Pessac-Léognan, where you can actually visit Château Haut-Brion if you make an appointment first.


Finally, to end the trip, if you want something a little off the beaten path, go to Labastide-d’Armagnac, like Cooker did in Flambé in Armagnac. Or do as the Cooker family did in Mayhem in Margaux, and spend some time at the holiday vacation spot of Cap Ferret, where “They gathered shrimp, snails, and oysters and ate them with garlic butter and a glass of wine as the waning light of the afternoon sun shimmered through the upper branches of the pine trees.”


Bon voyage.





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