European crime fiction in the crosshairs

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Wine of God, holy wine!

Coup de rouge en Touraine
Cheminements, 2003
(320 pages)

Rouge sur blanc...
Cheminements, 2005
(400 pages)

Le Crime nouveau est arrivé
Cheminements, 2006
(340 pages)

Robert Reumont

Sophie Colpaert


Three books from the same author, Robert Reumont, for a series that began in 2003 and presents an unusual trio of detectives – an inspector who is a wine connoisseur, his dozy sidekick and an extremely attractive intern.

Keen to see her boss in action, Wyvine Denier anticipates the start of her work experience and bursts on to the scene of a crime. Her leather shorts and short low-cut white top fail to put the lid on judge Cormiaud's indignation, while chief inspector Boistôt thanks heaven for sending him such a pretty and lively intern. He is delighted to note that Wyvine is also a rebel who is supremely irritated by society's hypocrisy. The witty remarks in which she expresses this sparkle like champagne and to hell with her interlocutor's social standing and the influence they might wield over her budding career. Inspector Joseph Marnay, a professional blunderer, eggs her on. Boistôt's sidekick also feels quite cheered by Wyvine's presence. For their first case together (Coup de rouge sur Touraine, A dash of red in Touraine ), the threesome are confronted with the murder of Hubert Bréhémont , a loner in his 70s and a retired doctor. Hubert, who was widowed many years earlier, used to allow his two neighbours, Solange and Alice, to mother him and would express his thanks by sharing the treasure in his cellar with them. Not the modest cellar in his house in Touraine, no, his real cellar, ‘the cathedral', hundreds of bottles in rows, lovingly collected and preserved to be shared and passed on. Ah, but Hubert's only daughter was unmoved by the art of wine and ‘the cathedral' aroused nothing but jealousy, to the great regret of its owner. Who would have been jealous enough of that cellar to kill Hubert Bréhémont? Placide Boistôt, himself a wine buff distressed that a wine-lover might have committed such an evil deed, attempts to follow the trail of the wine labels that are stuck up in his path wherever he goes. If they hold the key to the mystery … it is well concealed!

A few months later (Rouge sur blanc…, Red on white), as Christmas approaches, Placide Boistôt and Wyvine are summoned to help Joseph, who is staying in Alsace with his in-laws. Martin Keiler, a wine-grower, has been murdered and his sister Ségolène Keiler is the chief suspect. And what sacrilege! the murder weapon is a bottle of the late-harvested vintage that won Martin his first and only prize. Ségolène Keiler, who was quicker than her brother to find success in her profession, has no alibi for the time of the crime and there were many tensions in the family. The only thing missing is irrefutable proof, which Luc Weininger, the young chief inspector in charge of the investigation, cannot find. He delays an interrogation intended to make the suspect crack and grave family concerns prevent him from devoting himself single-mindedly to his first big case. Just following his kind heart Joseph asks Placide and Wyvine to come and solve the crime. Chary of encroaching on territory that does not belong to him, Boistôt hesitates but Wyvine decides for him! In any case the chief inspector is coming to the end of his stock of Gewurztraminer – a significant argument! – while she is looking forward to sampling the edible pleasures of Alsace in December. Sniffing the air of Turckheim and the area around the Keiler estate, the three detectives discover that about this time of nativity the little town is often in mourning. A few days before Martin Keiler's murder a child was killed on the dangerous crossing on the edge of town. The hit-and-run driver made off. So if you ask yourself whether Martin might have seen something, then maybe you have the beginning of a trail to follow …

Next spring (Le Crime nouveau est arrivé, The nouveau crime is here) it is Jean-Louis, the Fleurie wine-grower, who depends on the flair and experience of his friend Placide and his two assistants. Sylvain Ardières is accused of killing Patrick Moissier. The two men hated each other with a passion but managed to turn a blind eye. Till the village feast, where they violently locked horns. Sylvain went off yelling in a rage and next day Moissier was found dead with a head wound in front of his house. What might be an accident has been interpreted as a crime because witnesses saw Sylvain nearby. That, added to the fight and their longstanding hostility, lands Sylvain in prison accused of a crime, with determined silence as his sole defence. The sympathy of the village is with him. Moissier, the salesman, with his fine airs, irritated several people but not enough to kill him. Only Sylvain appears to have stored up enough resentment to go that far. His friends, among them Jean-Louis who knows him well, think he is incapable of killing. But that is not sufficient to get him out of jail. So Placide, Wyvine and Joseph get down to a new investigation in wine country, wandering from one cellar to another chasing clues. Who said you had to get a hangover to do some serious work?

Robert Reumont's novels seem light, claiming only to entertain readers by taking them, along with an agreeable trio of detectives, around places where the wine is good, and the food too, all without getting obsessed. The style is as whimsical as the characters. Delicious language, rich and fulsome, that cheers the spirit, nourishes the mind and appeases the nerves irritated by the modern world's stupidness and aggression. They also have the power to influence readers' view of the world around them, and encourage them to be more tolerant. Finally, in tune with the central theme claimed by the author for his crime fiction series, we learn a lot about the world of wine and the people who make it. These books are to be tasted in moderation. And even better with a glass of wine to hand.

>> Meet Robert Reumont in conversation here!

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