Review of ‘Treachery in Bordeaux’ by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen

Available from Le French Book.   (Yes, that really is the name of the publisher!)

I read this book after reading an earlier review by FictionFan, as I was instantly attracted to the idea of a crime fiction story set against the backdrop of the French wine industry.  In the blurb at the end, I was invited to order more books in the series featuring oenologist Benjamin Cooker and his assistant Virgile Lanssien, but, Dear Reader, I shall decline.

What struck me as I started to read was that I was being invited to share the life of a man whose life was perfect:  a loving wife, an adoring dog (called Bacchus – what else?), a lovely house in the beautiful area of Medoc and a highly successful career as a world authority on wine.  He drank fine wines for lunch and his wife rustled up delicious French meals.  High brow and intellectual, someonFinca_Solano_Tempranillo_Crianzae who appreciated classical music and seventeeth century French literature, he also has enough money to collect art and antiques.  There was a good feel about this main character and the general set-up, which made me realise, very quickly, what had been wrong about the last few books I had read.  I wanted to be Benjamin Cooker and to enjoy his life, whereas I had no desire at all to be the characters in the other novels.   Transporting the reader to a better world, where they can be richer, more comfortable and experience more excitement (without the dangers – obviously) is an essential element in all fiction, even gritty fiction.  Putting the reader into a different skin, that of the main character, where they can be braver, funnier and generally more interesting and better appreciated, is equally important.  This, the authors, did very well.

The character of Benjamin Cooker (since we’re talking about characters) was understated but well-drawn, a perfectionist who couldn’t sleep because he was afraid of not getting a wine quite right in his famous guide, reserved to the point that he didn’t want to mention to his assistant that he had a daughter.   All the other characters – of which there were generally too many – paled into the background.   Like many fictional detectives, he had rather too many ‘very good friends’ who turned up conveniently when they were needed in the storyline.  Cooker’s wife was a bit of a Dora Wexford (see Ruth Rendell)  but she lacked Dora’s comfortable but defined personality.

The work was written in French by French writers and tranlated by Anne Trager,  into American English unfortunately, even though the Cooker character was supposed to be British.  This jarred, not only because of the inevitable Webster spellings and occasional American words like ‘convertible’ and ‘pick up’, but American concepts like ‘high schools’.  That apart, the English style was pedestrian, with many phrases linked with ‘and’, lots of reps and sentences all constructed in the same way.

I haven’t yet mentioned the thrust of the story, the plot.  That is because the thrust of the novel was so wrapped up in Cooker and his wine that the plot was difficult to discern and the sleuthing  impossible to follow.  The reader had to wade his/her way through about a third of the book before a crime occurred – a crime that was scientific, technical and very involved – and then through another third to get to a proper murder, which was never investigated in the usual sense.  The police did not feature at all.  There is no reason, of course, why all crime stories should be about murders and police, although they usually are.  However, Cooker was following all manner of random leads, with great enthusiasm, but they seemed to relate to his art collection, not towards solving the crime, and the link was never properly explained.  As a result, the novel lacked tension.

So would I recommend ‘Treachery in Bordeaux’?  For the feel good factor, yes.

(Image from Wikipedia.)

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Writerly Things I Have Learned

Hello, Dear Reader.  Remember me?  I would understand if you can’t.  Bloggers are supposed to post frequently – hey ho!  I’m not a good blogger – evidently.

Over the last few weeks, I have been struggling with a short story and just getting the hang of it when REAL LIFE intervened yet again.  Since I last opened the file for that story, my one and only husband and I have been visitated by my beloved son and girlfriend, my favourite daughter and amazing grandson, and various others.  And oh, we’ve started a new term, which involved (amongst other things) writing three very long worksheets on using WordPress and one on using Dropbox, to say nothing of planning lessons, dealing with students’ issues and management’s voracious appetite for statistics.

So, I thought I would make a list of the Writerly Things I Have Learned, during the few years I have gone public with my writing.  (Before that, I had written huge quantities of stuff, mainly novels, but not really shared it with anybody.)  Here goes:

  1. Real Life (see above), which so gets in the way of writing, is a writer’s best raw material.   Dear Writer, don’t knock it.  Some writers will tell you that their writing is the most important thing in their lives.  No, it isn’t.  Your family and friends are.  The more eventful your life, the more resources you have… without resorting to reading it up on the internet.  People like me whose lives have been spectacularly pedestrian are disadvantaged here, although even we have conflict and encounter characters.
  2.  The first bit of advice that the Real Writers on online writing sites told me was ‘Thou Shalt Not Use Adverbs”.  Emphatically.   However, when you read those things called books (even ebooks), you find them littered with adverbs.  Definitely.
  3. However good you think your spelling and grammar is, it isn’t.  My advice would be to write with a dictionary to hand and also ‘New Fowler’s English Usage’.
  4. We all have our favourite words and phrases.  Recognise and avoid them.
  5. You can’t write when you’re exhausted.  If your brain seems to have turned into cottonwool and you’re staring at a blank screen, log off.  However, you might ask yourself how much you want to write and balance that against the things that are tiring you out.  These might even include the day job.  Can you afford to work less?
  6. There are many, many worse writers than you out there and they’re getting published, making mistakes you wouldn’t dream of.   Think about what they’re doing that you’re not.  Maybe they’re better at publicity, better at subbing to the right market or just in the right place at the right time?
  7. Writing is a young person’s vocation.  And they’re doing it very well.  If you’re an older writer, don’t assume that your readers have had experienced the same events and same thought processes as you.  If your mc is an eighteen year old, make him/her behave eighteen, without the wisdom and gravitas of a fifty-five year old… ooh and without patronising either.
  8. Plan your stories.  Yes, I know you’re dying to dive straight in… Hello Chapter 11 Syndrome!
  9. If you write straight on to computer, be totally on top of Word, or whatever wp package you’re using.  You can’t write if you’re battling the software application.  Handwrite on paper and type up, if computers don’t come naturally.
  10. While we’re on IT, save every few minutes and back up at least every week.  For backing up, use a larger device like an external hard drive AND cloud storage like Dropbox – so you’re all prepared when you’re computer goes pop.  In fact, don’t save anything on folders in My Documents at all.
  11. If, while you’re writing, you discard a few paragraphs, save them in a separate ‘dump’ file.  You never know when you might need them again.
  12. Switch off the television when you’re writing.
  13. Read, but not passively.  Analyse what you’re reading:  1st or 3rd person, past/present tense, length etc.
  14. Write about what you enjoy.  If you don’t, no one else will.
  15. Sounds, especially music, are difficult to get on to a page.  Of course, you should mention them, but beware of the issues.
  16. And from Julie Wow:  Try not to compare yourself to anyone else. Tread your own path.Cartoon writerHope this strikes a chord.  Please write in with Writerly Points of your own.