The heirs to one of the oldest Cognac estates in France face a hostile takeover by foreign investors. Renowned wine expert Benjamin Cooker is called in to audit the books. In what he thought was a sleepy provincial town, he is stonewalled, crosses paths with his first love, and stands up to high-level state officials keen on controlling the buyout. Meanwhile, irresistible Virgile mingles with the local population until a drowning changes the stakes
From Edelweiss in exchange for a review
The fifth in the series, and Benjamin is finding himself in uncharted territory and he’s not entirely comfortable. One of the oldest Cognac producers (the Lavoisier Château) has found itself with a minority shareholder in the form of the Chinese. Benjamin has been hired to do an audit of the winemaking capability to allow the Chinese to bring the business into the modern world. The Chinese have not appreciated the history of the French Winemakers and that modernity takes a long time to trickle through. Not only is Benjamin getting nowhere with Marie-France (the primary one of the three siblings who own the business), but he is also having quiet meetings in churchyards with the French Government and getting pressure to scupper the deal.
Meanwhile there is an undercurrent of secrets, rumours and sexuality within the family, and Virgile, Benjamin’s assistant, is bearing the brunt of it. Where Benjamin makes no headway with the Little Pierre, the younger brother, it seems Pierre has taken a fancy to Virgile, and things are progressing well until Pierre is found drowned one morning.
Having left Virgile to see what he can find out, Benjamin is having lunch when he meets his first love, a British woman who has been living in France for over 10 years. His happy marriage with Elizabeth is no deterrent to Shelia, who repeatedly comes on to Benjamin – he declines the offer, and realises over the next few days that she is another person with secrets, including a son (Nathan) that is never mentioned in any of their conversations.
In the end the threads are pulled together in a rather more satisfying way than some of the previous books in the series and the book feels a little more rounded. This is technically a Benjamin Crocker book, but Virgile is finding out much more than Benjamin is now, and is central to finding out what’s going on.
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