Book Review: Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noël Balen’s Nightmare in Burgundy

Posted July 31, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noël Balen’s Nightmare in Burgundy

Nightmare in Burgundy


Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen

amateur sleuth, mystery that was published by Le French Book on July 31, 2014 and has 140 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include Cognac Conspiracies

Third in the Winemaker Detective Mysteries mystery series and revolving around Benjamin Cooker, a renowned winemaker. This is based in Burgundy and takes place between Palm Sunday and Easter.

My thanks to NetGalley and Le French Book for providing this ARC for my enjoyment. Do note that this is also a made-for-TV series.

My Take

Oh, lord…the food, the wine…it was glorious, and cozy. You can’t help but enjoy reading of the food, imagining the wine, that visit to the bookstore — so many of my favorite things in this book…*grin*…! And Sally Pane did a beautiful job of translating!

“…there are wines you talk about and wines you drink.

They are not always one and the same.”

Idyllic in some ways with Alaux/Balen’s writing of the culture and lifestyle of the people in Burgundy. I loved “seeing” the hunting game and picking mushrooms” part, a sense of small-town life with people knowing each other too well, and yet these small towns have the same problem other towns and cities have: the violence, stupidity, and uncaring bureaucracy. The corruption that destroys lives and hopes.

It killed me to read of the tasting. I kept imagining the flavors swirling through my own mouth — Alaux/Balen did a beautiful job of show, pulling me right in, waking my tastebuds. I could almost taste the soils Cooker spoke of as well. It’s also the first time I got a real sense of how one could taste the appellations. Makes me want to take classes in oenology! I loved this feeling of being behind-the-scenes as Cooker reads through Virgile’s wine-tasting report. Fascinating to read of authenticity, manners, simplicity, and honesty applied to a wine!

I did like Brother Clément’s comment about life being a comedy. Sometimes a tragi-comedy, but always something to laugh at or about.

At one point, Brother Clément mentions Cooker’s “native England”, and yet earlier, Cooker spoke of his childhood in the vineyards. So I’m wondering if Cooker is British or French; his name certainly tends toward the English.

I’m of two minds about graffiti. Most of it is totally pointless and ugly, although I do appreciate some of the font styles they create. If it says something clever or is a painting, then I enjoy it. Enough that one wall of my garage in my old place had been graffiti’d as a mural, and I enjoyed it for as long as I had the house. In no case do I believe it’s worth killing over. Forcing them to clean it up is about as far as I’m interested in punishing anyone. What did give me a laugh — and it did make perfect sense — to think of applying handwriting analysis to paint can handwriting.

A nice bit of history regarding the first vines planted and the château being built, the events that swirled around the area, the abbey, and the château through the ages. I particularly enjoyed Cooker’s comment about “the permanence of the traditions and the winemakers’ attachment to this unique piece of land” despite those same events. Too true.

As I said earlier, I think of this as a cozy mystery, and one Cooker didn’t actually solve. It was more of an accident than anything and all due to Virgile’s libido. What did confuse me was why Cooker got so intrigued by the graffiti.

The Story

It’s an honor — and a roast — and Cooker is loving every minute of his induction into the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.

When Cooker wakes in the morning, it’s to a curious puzzle of Latin graffiti. A curiosity he carries into the morning’s session, tasting wines at the Tastevinage to determine which would deserve the honor.

That same puzzle follows him throughout Vougeot and Gilly, with Latin graffiti popping up all over the region.

The Characters

Benjamin Cooker is a specialist and sought after for his winemaking. Truly an achievement in France. He also writes the Cooker Guide, a publication that rates the wines and their vineyards. Elisabeth is his wife; his dog, lol, is named Bacchus. Virgile is Cooker’s assistant with an eye for the ladies. Raphaëlle is Virgile’s sister. Alexandrine La Palussière works in a lab.

Aurélie is his waitress in the hotel restaurant. Ernest (he shot the gun) and Honoré Mancenot are brothers and total nutjobs! Cedric and David Bravart are cousins and complete opposites. Robert Bressel is a reporter with Le Bien Public. Rendez-vous des Touristes Café is a café in the village. Pierre-Jean Bressel is the regional librarian and Robert’s nephew. Mother Grangreon is the victim of a folkloric prank. Murielle Grangreon isn’t the first woman to have her life upended when she gets pregnant. Lucien Filongey is an expert in the metaphysical. I think he’s a crackpot. Sébastien Pilat runs a fabulous restaurant with an enviable knowledge of wines and cigars.

The Cîteaux Abbey (although Alaux/Balen doesn’t make this clear, the Molesme Abbey was sort of a mother house to Cîteaux) is where Cooker found much of the information for his first Cooker Guide. Brother Clément was responsible for the “wealth of anecdotes and details”. Brother Grégoire is the abbey porter.

The Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin is a order of gentlemen who indulge in wine. Olivier Lefflaive is a friend of Cooker’s and a winemaker. Pascal Wagner is a sommelier.

The Cover and Title

The cover is chill and moist, deep down in the cave where a wooden table is in the forefront laden with a bottle of wine, its cork lying on the table, a bunch of luscious purple grapes, a full glass of wine, and a splash of blood.

The title is more about the perpetrator-victim, about her Nightmare in Burgundy.