"Tragedy strikes in the mountainous Reisling region"
Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted March 11, 2016
Mystery Culinary | Mystery Amateur Sleuth
By now we know what to expect from the Winemakers
Detective Series—a consistent offering, with an
attractive bouquet, fruity notes, good depth with a rich,
aftertaste. If that sounds
pretentious, sorry, but read enough of these engaging short
books and you'll start talking that way too. LATE HARVEST
HAVOC begins in Strasbourg at one of France's oldest
The food of Alsace includes suckling pig, beef tartare and
fish with sauerkraut. Accompanied by a grand cru riesling
white. In this mountainous region, the grape harvest
continues into late autumn, sometimes right up to
Christmas. Cooker and his assistant Virgile, who as usual
is equally as interested in women as in wine, are here to
sample the Deutzler vineyard's wines and help another
vintner turn out a quality wine less sweet than normal. But
reports of vandalism to the vines have reached the press,
and the alarming incidents continue. Cooker's car tyres are
slashed before he even reaches his destination. How much
more serious will it get?
Among wines I noted is gewurztraminer which tastes of
ginger and honeysuckle. Best with ripe cheese. We learn
that Reisling needs steep slopes and southern sun. This
makes no odds to the Deutzler family in turbulence, the
father having lost his legs when his tractor rolled over on
the mountainside, the mother having died from distress, the
daughter-in-law expecting a baby. The murdered grape vines
are a tragedy. Cooker and Virgile, as usual, find
themselves in the midst of a drama when all they wanted was
a wine-tasting. Down in the town, the locals boast that in
this area, everyone always knows who did it, but the guilty
will pay for silence. This attitude seems to stretch back
to the Second World War. Cooker is reminded that revenge is
a dish best served cold. But Virgile is determined to track
down the culprit, at whatever risk to himself.
All this talk of duck and sour cherry terrine has made me
hungry, so I'm off to the kitchen. Make sure LATE HARVEST
HAVOC the latest offering from Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël
Balen is on your menu, if you enjoy foodie or travel
stories and crime. The translation by Sally Pane is as
always first rate. I highly recommend this feast for the
Disaster strikes the vineyards in Alsace. Vintners are
and old grudges surface. The Winemaker Detective's
is on the line as he must find the cause before the late
Winter is in the air in Alsace and local customs are
trouble, piquing the curiosity of the famous winemaker
Bordeaux, Benjamin Cooker. While the wine expert and his
assistant Virgile settle into their hotel in the old city
Colmar, distinguished vineyards are attacked. Is it
The plot thickens when estates with no apparent
one another suffer the same sabotage just days prior to
late harvest. All of Alsace is in turmoil, plunged in the
of suspicion that traces its roots back to the darkest
the German occupation. As he crosses back and forth into
Germany from the Alsace he thought he knew so well,
discovers a land of superstition, rivalry, and jealousy.
Between tastings of the celebrated wines, he is drawn
lives and intrigues of the inhabitants.
ExcerptIn just minutes, death would strike again.?The wax-
colored skeleton, brandishing a heavy scythe in his left
hand, would hit the bronze carillon with the ivory femur
in his other hand: one clean hard stroke for each hour
that had passed.?Renowned wine expert Benjamin Cooker was
waiting, oblivious to the crowd gathering around him. But
when the Bavarian tourists began elbowing and pushing
him, he could no longer enjoy the moment. He stepped away
from the enraptured spectators, who were cooing at the
pudgy cherubs, one of them holding a bell and the other
holding a sand clock, and oohing and aahing over the
intricately carved cabinet, the Latin inscriptions, and
the midnight-blue and gold face of the astronomical clock
in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg.
Benjamin took refuge at the Pillar of Angels to the right
of the gigantic clock. He leaned against it. The coolness
of the stone sent a shiver down his spine, and for some
odd reason he thought of Virgile, his assistant. Where
was he? Already flirting with some pretty young tourist
at the back of the cathedral, no doubt. Oh well, he’d
show up. Benjamin turned his attention to the tour guide.
“This was one of the seven wonders of Germany when
Alsace-Lorraine was still German territory,” the guide
said before putting a finger to his lips to shush a pair
of noisy visitors. The hand of the clock was about to
Death, laughing in the face of time, banged out the
twelve strokes of noon, setting off the automata. One by
one, the twelve apostles appeared and processed in front
of Jesus: Simon, who was called Peter; Andrew, Peter’s
brother; James; John; Philip; Bartholomew; Thomas;
Matthew, the tax collector; James, Thaddaeus; Simon; and
A rooster at the highest point of the cabinet crowed and
flapped its wings three times during this processional
march, and Benjamin recalled Peter’s renouncement of
Jesus. “Before the rooster crows twice, you yourself will
disown me three times,” Jesus had told Peter the night
before his crucifixion. The maker of this theatrical
timepiece had been well versed in the Holy Scriptures.
Another group had gathered near the throng of Germans.
They were elderly, and from what he could hear, Benjamin
surmised they were members of a club from Provence.
“Mother of God!” one of them exclaimed each time a new
figure appeared in the allegorical theater.
Benjamin heard them call their guide by name: Jeanne. She
had silver hair and laughing eyes and clearly knew all
about this cathedral and its timepiece. Her talk was
peppered with intriguing and amusing anecdotes. He perked
an ear and bristled when a few club members snickered at
her German-like Alsatian accent.
“Legend has it that when this clock was completed, the
astronomer who devoted his life to devising and building
it had his eyes gouged out on the order of the city’s
“Why?” a woman asked, holding her purse close to her
Jeanne narrowed her eyes and said quietly, “So that the
artist could not reproduce such a work of art anywhere
“Did he die?” the purse clutcher asked.?
“You’ll notice that I said ‘legend has it.’ Not all
legends are true,” the guide said, inspecting Benjamin,
who had surreptitiously infiltrated her group. “You, sir—
you look like an educated man. Do you know if they really
gouged out the eyes of the genius who created this
Benjamin felt the suspicious stares of the Provençal
group, which did not recognize him as one of their own.
Jeanne, however, took him by the arm as if to make him a
privileged witness to the rest of her talk.
“So, my good fellow, tell me what you think.”
“Um, to tell the truth, I have no informed opinion,”
Jeanne pushed her glasses to the bridge of her aquiline
nose, lifted her chin, and began pontificating.
“As a matter of fact, the astronomer was much too old by
then to recreate such a work. He soon became deaf and was
unable to hear the ticking of this mechanism created for
the glory of God. He descended into madness and lost all
sense of time.”
“Really?” Benjamin asked.
“Do you doubt my word, sir?” She looked him in the eye
“All gifted storytellers embellish their accounts from
time to time, and some even fabricate tales. Wouldn’t you
agree?” the winemaker said, holding her gaze.?
“You force me to tell the truth,” the guide conceded,
clearly delighted that her presentation had struck a
responsive chord with this elegant man in a Loden.
“So pay close attention, Mr.... What was your name?”
“As in Benjamin Franklin?”
“That’s exactly right. As far as I’m concerned, this
clock is as much an enigma as the lightning rod.”
“Mr. Benjamin, I love your sense of humor.”
“You are quite witty yourself, Madam,” Benjamin replied
with a smile. Then he removed his arm from hers. Enough
flirting, he thought.
By now, some members of the club were whispering and
sniggering. Obviously, they weren’t amused by the
diversion. Jeanne raised her voice and resumed her talk,
addressing the entire group while still keeping her eye
on Benjamin, who was so unlike the seniors she was
leading through the cathedral.
From that point on, she punctuated each well-
substantiated point with a question.
“Isn’t that so?” she’d ask, looking at the winemaker.
“Actually, this is the third clock in the Strasbourg
cathedral. The first was built in the fourteenth century,
and we don’t know who created it. Parts of it are now in
the city’s Oeuvre Museum of Decorative Arts. It was
called the Three Kings Clock. The second one was built in
the sixteenth century. When it stopped working in 1843,
it was replaced by the clock you see here. Now, can
anyone tell me who built this third clock?”
Jeanne drew out the suspense and inched closer to
Benjamin, who stood stock still, his hands be- hind his
“A boy happened to visit this cathedral and was upset
that the beautiful clock was broken. He asked one of the
cathedral guards why it wasn’t working, and the guard
told him that no one in the country had the expertise to
repair it. With that, the boy declared that he would be
that man. His name was Jean-Baptiste Schwilgué. Fifty
years after he vowed to repair the clock he finally got
his opportunity. By this time he was versed in clock
making, mathematics, and mechanics. In fact, he went on
to invent the adding machine. Building this clock took
four years and thirty workers.”
“Is that all?” the winemaker asked.
“Yes, Mr. Benjamin. By the looks of it, this clock would
have required far more time and many more workers. But
Schwilgué was a genius. He had spent his entire life
studying the astronomical clock. He even dreamed of
making one with a glass cabinet that would allow everyone
to see the mechanisms inside. But the city deemed the
project too costly. Imagine the gem we would have today
if he had been given free rein.”
“Yes, but even as it is, this is a true jewel,” Benjamin
“Indeed, it is,” the Alsatian woman agreed, giving the
winemaker a warm smile.
At the end of the tour, Benjamin thanked Jeanne and tried
to slip a bill into her hand. She refused it and instead
handed him her business card.
“Our cathedral has thousands of treasures,” she whispered
in his ear. “I would love to show you all of them—the
heraldic sculptures, the three Last Judgment paintings,
and, of course, the celestial globe studded with five
thousand stars. You must see it! Let’s make a date to
meet another day. Shall we?”
“I’m too intimidated by this clock to give you a date,
much less a precise time. Let’s leave it to
Benjamin hoped she would get the message. But instead of
saying good-bye, she took his wrist and clung to it for a
few seconds. The winemaker was silent. Finally, she let
go and turned around to rejoin her tour group. Benjamin
felt a twinge of guilt—was it because he had turned the
wom- an down or because he had actually considered making
that date with her? No, what he felt was pity for the
guide. He was blessed with his wife, Elisabeth, whose
intelligence and wit were beyond match.
Benjamin decided to look for Virgile and spotted his
assistant ducking into a confessional to answer his cell
phone. He’d have a word with him about that. But before
he could give the reprimand a second thought, screams
rose from the group gathered near the clock.
“Oh my God,” someone shouted. “Get help, quick!”
“It’s too late,” a bald man said.?The winemaker retraced
his steps and with some difficulty made his way through
the crowd gathered around a small figure on the floor.
Above the bloody forehead, he could see a mass of silver
hair. Beside the body lay a pair of gold-framed glasses
with broken lenses—Jeanne’s glasses.
“What happened?” he asked.
“All of the sudden she just clutched her chest and
dropped. She hit her head in the fall.”
From his vantage point on the clock, the Grim Reaper
attended the scene, a satisfied smile carved on his jaw.
He waved his femur and struck the bell. It was exactly
one o’clock in the afternoon.
When Benjamin Cooker pulled open the door of the
centuries-old confessional, Virgile, as he suspected, was
still on his device, cooing sweet nothings in the dark to
a faraway lover.
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