Wine expert and amateur detective Benjamin Cooker travels to Paris to care for some unexpected vineyards nestled in Montmartre. The attempted murder of Arthur, an old friend, springs the detective and his assistant Virgile into action. Their investigation driven by Arthur’s past in the Foreign Legion leads to unexpected places from Djibouti to Côte du Rhône and his past seems to be catching up with him.
While this is a dark-ish book it still has a wonderful thread of wine, great food and French culture which the series is well known for. I find that even though this was a part of a series it can be read as a standalone too.
Excerpt from Montmartre Mysteries by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen
Benjamin sighed. Oscar Wilde had summed it up. “The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”
The vines of Montmartre, sloping and dusted with white, came into view at the corner of the Rue Saint Vincent and the Rue des Saules. An employee of the city of Paris was moving along the vines, pruning as he went. Nearly two thousand vine stocks had been planted here in 1932.
The winemaker, who considered himself something of a historian, knew practically everything about wine in the City of Light. Introduced by the Galls around 390 BC, vines had covered much of the Montmartre area in the tenth century, most of them planted by the Dames-de-Montmartre Abbey. In the eighteenth century, there were two major vineyards: the Haut Coteau to the north of the present-day Place Saint Pierre, and the Bas Coteau near the Rue Cazotte. There was a smaller vineyard called La Rochefoucauld between the streets Tardieu and Orsel, as well as one called Montaigu near the reservoirs and another called Église, adjacent to the apse of the Saint Pierre Church. Today’s Place Jean-Baptiste Clément also once held vines.
The square’s namesake is famous for writing “Le Temps des Cerises” in 1866. The song reminded him of Sheila too. She used to translate the title literally. She had loved cherry season and would often sing Clément’s lyrics, which told the story of a beautiful young woman who delivered scarlet-colored cherries to the defenders of the barricades in Montmartre during the Paris Commune. Benjamin didn’t doubt that she identified with the violence of those times.
The Clos Montmartre vineyard had fascinated Benjamin as a student. It was an incongruous patch of stocks planted in the midst of cobblestone alleyways and a confusion of buildings.