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Grand Cru Heist: Fine Wine, Fast Cars and Dead Bodies

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Grand Cru Heist by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen is best summed up, I think, as a cozy mystery for men set in the ostentatiously wealthy world of winemakers and connoisseurs. There is a definite feeling of Gentlemen’s Club in the novel with erudite discussions and witty wordplay amidst a haze of cigar smoke. The characters we meet would definitely never confuse “a Bordeaux with a Burgundy”, and I’m not sure the same could be said for a lot of its readers. (I know I’d be struggling!) However, the book gives us a fascinating glimpse into this exclusive world.

Winemaker Benjamin Cooker is the victim of a carjacking in Paris. To recover from the unpleasant ordeal, he takes himself off to a rather nice hotel in Touraine to convalesce. Here he meets the British version of himself – Robert Morton, another man who likes his fancy motors and vintage wines. He’s also pulled into a murder when Morton’s young female companion is found dead, and shortly afterwards Cooker stumbles on another body. While this is going on, his friend Hubert de Boüard, owner of the Château Angélus, is suffering from burglaries and receiving clever, cryptic messages from the thieves. Cooker throws his returning energy and intelligence into working out what’s going on in both cases. He certainly does seem more clued up than the investigator from the gendarmes, especially when it comes to European car registration numbers. With the help from his assistant, Virgile, Crooker sets to.

The book is partly set in Bordeaux, without doubt the most beautiful city in France. (With my daughter at university there, I get to visit it every now and again.) If you know the city, but actually even if you don’t, you can really appreciate the descriptions of various parts of it that we find in the book. There are a few mentions of its history too. There is some lyrical writing (“The two pilgrims braved the west wind and the light rain that seeped into their bones, and for a while, they forgot their ages, their health, their ambitions, and perhaps even their own convictions”), and sharp observation (“Restaurants always seemed to be full of bored couples who enjoyed eavesdropping”). It’s tightly written, moves steadily and always with dignity, like Cooker himself, and is an intriguing mystery.

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I’ve mentioned the Gentlemen’s Club atmosphere, and this is a predominantly male book. There are some women amongst its pages, although they do stay in the background. There’s Cooker’s wife, Elisabeth, patient and loving, also a bossy nurse, a moody prostitute and an eye-catching waitress. They’re succinctly portrayed and, whilst minor characters, they’re certainly not shadowy.

Time for a very quick, gentle grumble. We get a ‘discretely’, meaning separately, where we need a ‘discreetly’, meaning stealthily, and teetotaler preceded by ‘an’ amongst the, admittedly, very few typos in this very well presented novel. However, to make up for that we get the lovely touch of the made-up term ‘Saint-Emillionnaire’ to describe someone who’s made a fortune from that type of wine. And I was delighted to see that Cooker’s dog is called Bacchus – I mean, what else! And to return briefly to our ‘an teetotaler’, the definition is wonderful and gives us a good idea of what our hero Benjamin Cooker is about. To him teetotalers are “A race of individuals not to be recommended…”, and the same can be said of the criminals Cooker helps to root out. (I’ve since been informed that I had an ARC – advanced review copy – of the book and that these and other typos will be sorted out in the final version.)

This is an enjoyable read. It’s quite a short book but, since it’s only the second of a promised series of twenty-two, then we can be consoled with knowing that there is plenty more entertainment coming our way from these two authors.

grandcru authorsPhoto is copyright of David Nakache

Follow the rest of this enchanting book’s virtual tour by visiting the France Book Tour  website.

 

 

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Five, Six, Pick Up Sticks: Cover reveal for the new whodunit from E J Lamprey

five six finalIf you enjoy mysteries, then keep your eyes open for this book, which is coming soon. It’s the third in E J Lamprey’s whodunit series, set in Grasshopper Lawns and featuring a group of very sharp-witted amateur sleuths.

I talked to the author about her very striking cover.

 

What does the cover for Five, Six, Pick Up Sticks tell us about your book?

My brief to the artist, Lacey O’Connor, was that I wanted to include a ginger cat, the Forth Road Bridge, the moon, and a rosebud – or boutonniere – in a glass, because three of them were major factors in the story. The Forth Road Bridge turns 50 next year, there’s a chance I’ll be able to pick up a bit of promotion through that, as the book includes a car chase on the bridge.

 

What does it tell us about you?

I do like a cover to have clues to the contents, I’m quite a literal person.

 

Was is it easy to design? 

Very easy, because Lacey is so talented, I tell her what I want, and wait! She comes up with a first draft and then we fine tune. For this cover I sent her photos of the cat and the bridge as well as the brief.

 

How many other cover designs did you discard on the way?

The main elements were there in the first draft, but it took about five revamps to get the effects I had wanted – more than the previous covers, but then it is much more complex than usual.

 

Did you ask for other people’s opinions and was that helpful – or confusing?

I ran the second draft past my beta readers, who would have accepted it as it was. I put the third on my Facebook page and Twitter but didn’t get feedback as such, although people liked it. I’ve attached the very first draft, when she had (despite the photo) used the wrong bridge, the iconic rail one, because it may be interesting to see the differences.

 

Having been through the process, what tips can you pass on about designing a cover?

Get an artist you like, and can work with. I’m thrilled with this cover, but I like all three covers she’s done for me. I put the brief for my first cover onto Elance, with a tiny budget, and had left it a bit late, so it had to be done in a week. I got eight responses, from all over the world, and could look at all eight portfolios. Lacey wasn’t my first choice, as she was the most expensive and I didn’t like her portfolio best. By the greatest luck the American guy I picked couldn’t do it in the time! Lacey is a joy to work with. I loved her picture for One Two but accepted her lettering, even though I didn’t like it personally, because she was the expert. However, I played with the picture itself later, came up with lettering I far preferred, and she corrected the cover at the same time as she did the second cover, so my second tip would be to stick to your guns unless you actually prefer what the artist recommends.

 

Finally, tell us about Five, Six, Pick Up Sticks in 100 words.

The third whodunit in the Grasshopper Lawns series dives gleefully into the murkiest end of the senior singles dating pool, where the predators lurk, with Edge volunteering as the face of the police investigation. Dating for the over-fifties is definitely a boom industry, but for some it has been a dead end, and the police want to know why. The investigation is so covert, not even her friends can know why she is suddenly so keen to meet a series of slightly alarming men. After all, she’ll be monitored at all times, so absolutely nothing can go wrong…

 

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Whodunits With A Scottish Flavour from E J Lamprey

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I’m delighted to welcome Elizabeth Lamprey, indie author of lively and intriguing whodunits. I asked her a few questions.

Tell us briefly about One Two Buckle My Shoe and Three Four Knock On My Door. 

They are novellas, and whodunits in the Detection Club style, set in Scotland in the kind of retirement village I hope to end up in myself one day. Retirement villages aren’t old age homes – they’re designed for people in late middle age who are down-sizing into an environment that will be age-friendly when they get old.  My invented one is definitely eccentric.

What’s the story behind the stories? Why did you write the books?

My mother moved into a retirement village very reluctantly, after finally realizing she couldn’t cope with a big house any longer then absolutely loved it, she was always delighted and intrigued by her new neighbours. Sadly she took ill and died and I wrote a story where murders occurred in the village and she and  friends did a sort of multiple Miss Marple on them – it was a therapy for me, to fix her in my mind as having fun and lively friends and a bit of a challenge, like a never-ending murder dinner. I’d never written a whodunit before, although I enjoy reading them, and a year or so later the One Two title popped up out of nowhere and the idea for the series was born. I borrowed the basic story from her book, fictionalizing the characters and making them younger. She’s lent her name to the friend character – Vivian – but Vivian only borrows her voice and moments of her history, she isn’t a portrait.

Are they fun to write?

They’re great fun to plot – deciding on a murder and working backwards to set it up so that the reader and the characters can solve it, hopefully in a neck and neck finish. Setting up the clues so they are fairly presented but not screamingly obvious is the trickiest part.

12knockdoorWhich character are you most like and why?

I think I may be most like Katryn, the administrator who joins Grasshopper Lawns in the second book, after the death of the first administrator  – I grew up in South Africa, so I can identify with her, and quite enjoy having her around. She’s a minor role, very direct and pragmatic.

Dogs feature quite prominently in the stories. I’m guessing you’re a dog lover. Please tell us about your current canine companion/s. Dogs totally took over the second book, but they’re normally more wallpaper. There’s a cat coming into the third book – I do love pets, they really make a house a home, especially for anyone living alone. I became a cat person about ten years ago but there were always dogs in my life before. I took on a rescue dog with severe personality issues (she shares most of Maggie’s traits, and more) about six months ago and at first regretted it bitterly but wouldn’t want to be without her now. The cat is still reserving judgement.

Do you have any bizarre writing rituals?

I don’t think so – I had a foible about writing with purple ink and it reached a point where I could only write with purple ink, but finally trained myself to type direct, rather than write the first draft in longhand.  And breaking myself of the habit of smoking while I typed was mind-numbing for a while! I was quite stressed during the adjustment and held a pen between my teeth, sucking furiously when my mind went blank, until one burst and ink went everywhere. Cured.

Did you design your covers yourself? What was your aim in the designs?

I got really lucky with the covers, I might have tried some inexpert photo-shopping but I knew the first one had to be an abandoned shoe – trying photo-shopping that. I finally went onto Elance to find an artist.  Lacey O’Connor is practically psychic and can create more than I even realized I wanted, she’s absolutely brilliant.

34knockdoorWhen did you first realize you wanted to be an author?

Since forever, since before I even knew that daydreams and scribbling endless stories had a name. I thought the dream would only ever be that, a dream, when family problems meant I couldn’t go to university to read English, but reading and writing are two of my greatest pleasures, I just wish I could write as well as the authors I read!

What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors?

Don’t rush into self-publishing – I doubt anyone will listen, because I wouldn’t have listened, but in retrospect I threw away a lot of potential word-of-mouth goodwill from family and friends by putting out a sub-standard first book. The story itself hasn’t changed but there were so many glitches in the first edition, and the format was really amateur. A lot were picked up in the second, and I had already completed a complete loop on the learning curve by then! I feel really strongly about it, and am constantly meeting SP authors who simply don’t see errors as a problem, the important thing, they insist pompously, is the story. Putting out sub-standard books is bad for us all and with so very many books on offer your readers won’t get to the story because they will give up on the first page. I’m a copy-editor myself (granted, mainly business / technical stuff) and I thought I could do my own copy-editing. No-one can – your brain auto-adjusts and simply doesn’t see errors on work it knows well.

 And finally, anything else our readers need to know about you?

I have four names – apparently in some traditions a long name means good luck – and also a Twitter name (Elegsabiff) so in a weird way I have several lives. My professional life skips the second name,  I write under the first three (Elizabeth Joanna Lamprey), I am known by my first and last names, and I review and tweet under the elegsabiff name. Maybe one day I’ll settle on one version, but it could be boring. I was quite taken with the idea of publishing as Elegsabiff but KDP isn’t really set up for one name. Maybe that’s why Cher has never self-published?

About the books

One Two Buckle My Shoe

Detectives nearly always work alone, although some don’t mind an admiring sidekick as they deftly and efficiently go about their business. In real life, murder isn’t always straightforward and clues can be much more elusive. In this particular case, just finding out who exactly got murdered was the first challenge.

The residents at Grasshopper Lawns were closely interested, because the murderer could be among them, but hadn’t any intention of interfering in the solving of the case. Piecing together scraps of information was intriguing, though. And they did keep coming across facts that no-one had given to the police… This is the first in the quite light-hearted murder series based in a rather unusual retirement village in Scotland.

Three Four Knock On My Door

A dead body in the laundry sparks off the next murder mystery at Grasshopper Lawns. Once again Edge and her friends help the police with this investigation but there’s more to deal with. Throw in a badly behaved dog, a tall, shadowy figure and Death with his scythe and events get quite complicated!
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Three-Knock-Grasshopper-Lawns-ebook/dp/B00C4FE0TG/