Featured Translation: Cognac Conspiracies by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen


There were over 450 new translations published this year, and trust us, we know from experience, keeping track of them all can be a maddening exercise. Each weekday from now until the end of the year we’ll highlight a different title that you may have missed. From short story collections to epic novels, from award winning works of the highest literary caliber to trashy romantic beach reads, we’ll feature the very best, and the very worst that 2015 had to offer, one book at a time.

Cognac Conspiracies by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen / Translated from the French by Sally PaneI thought adding genre filtering to to the Visual Guide would be a pretty easy thing, and for the most part, besides having to update every single entry with the proper tags, it was. What I didn’t anticipate was coming across a genre that I’d never heard of before. Cozy? What the heck is that? Am I supposed to curl up under a blanket by a fire with titles in this category? Do I snuggle with it like a cat? Is the book itself covered in fleece? I’m not ashamed to admit (okay, I am, but only slightly) that I had to ask Google what was up. The response it directed me towards from Wikipedia was: Cozy mysteries, also referred to simply as “cozies”, are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community. The term was first coined in the late 20th century when various writers produced work in an attempt to re-create the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Ah, the golden age! What’s not to laugh about when it comes to sex and violence?

Most of the translations in this genre (read: all) come from The Winemaker Detective Series by authors Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen. With six books published this year alone it would be hard not to feature the French duo in these pages at least once over the next few weeks. The only real problem was deciding on which title to showcase. I happened to have Cognac Conspiracies within easy reach. Problem solved.

The basic premise is as such: master winemaker Benjamin Cooker and his sidekick Virgile Lanssien travel around solving mysteries in vineyards throughout France. In Cognac Conspiracies (which is book 5) the pair are called to one of the oldest Cognac estates in the country after Chinese investors attempt a hostile takeover. There Cooker is tasked with auditing the books while Virgile spends time blending in with the locals. It’s not exactly smooth sailing for either of them to begin with, but a drowning certainly won’t make things any better:

Benjamin couldn’t help smiling. His assistant continued. “Really, this is all very complicated. Who would believe it if we told them the story? Here we are, stuck in a corner of fucking Charente, investigating a drowning that could be a murder, involved with an elite but peculiar family, and trying to extricate ourselves from a sticky situation with a woman with a passion for roses, among other things—after taking on and dropping a job commissioned by a client halfway around the world.”

As it’s a mystery I don’t want to give too much more away plot wise. One thing I will say? There’s more than enough sexual tension to go around.

You can read an excerpt from Cognac Conspiracies on the Le French Book website. You can check out details on television adaption of the The Winemaker Detective series on the France 3 website. For more on Alaux and Balen check out this interview at The Sirens of Suspense website.

Cognac Conspiracies was translated from the French by Sally Pane and published in February by Le French Book.

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About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.