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"Francophiles, wine lovers and anyone who likes a good thriller will love Vintage Murder. We highly recommend it." -- Phyllis Flick, Bonjour Paris, October 27, 2002
"Vintage Murder teems with good, full descriptions of the glories that are France. Entertaining and informative. I recommend it." -- John Goodspeed, Star Democrat, October 11, 2002
About the Author
William S. Shepard is a former career diplomat who served as American Consul General in Bordeaux. He has reported extensively on the Basque ETA. He is a member of the Jurade de St. Emilion and other wine societies, and his wine column is featured on the Bonjour Paris website (www.bparis.com).
This is the type of novel that is best appreciated in an experiential manner; if one is looking for an action-packed thriller, Len Deighton et al are available elsewhere. Robbie Cutler, as the Acting Consul General in Bordeaux (a Consulate General which sadly no longer exists), becomes enmeshed in the murder of an American wine critic, which leads him into the world of Bordeaux wineries - and beyond. The story is peppered with memorable American, French and Spanish characters, who share the stage with equally memorable places, none more so than Bordeaux itself. The author portrays French culture well and also manages to convey interesting background and history without being too pedantic. The reader will have to like both wine and France (or be open to the idea of liking them) in order to enjoy the novel, but that is not really a bad thing.
Anyone with actual Foreign Service experience will spot - one hopes - that a crucial plot device is impossible in the real world on multiple levels, but I suppose that is the author's one major nod to Hollywood-esque thriller conventions. The other aspects of Foreign Service life are well described and true to life, although one must be lucky indeed these days to be posted to a similar convivial, charming and civilized location.
Take one part debonair James Bond, shake and stir with a dash of Agatha Christie, John le Carre and the wine expertise of Robert Parker (the wine critic, and perhaps the mystery writer as well), and you've got the delightful cocktail of espionage, murder, and intrigue that makes up former diplomat William Shepherd's highly enjoyable "Vintage Murder." A former trade ambassador to France and also a wine connoisseur, Shepherd moves easily between the diplomatic scenes of Paris and the vineyards of France and Europe, providing a unique insight into both cultures as well as imparting a good deal of wine knowledge at no extra charge. There's a wry sense of humor that runs through the narrative that reminds me just a bit of Graham Greene and his so-called "entertainments," which were his generally "lighter" novels, usually about espionage, and written mostly for fun and entertainment, but with a serious side. That is certainly how I would describe Vintage Murder, fun and quite entertaining, while never forgetting its first duty to be a well-crafted novel of maneuvering, murder, mystery, mayhem and of course Margaux.
Vintage Murder has it all - wine, romance, intrigue, landscape. It made me feel I was there, enjoying the scenery, which is described in detail and is extremely attractive. The same goes for the wines, and the people. Robbie is special, and his relationship with Sylvie not at all unforeseen. I wish there had been more to it than hints.
I felt close to the place, as I love France and the Bordeaux area, which is special and has so much to offer. I also love the food, and the descriptions made me want to be there. I am also very familiar, unfortunately, with ETA. (The Basque cities in Spain are great, and Bilbao deserves a trip. It was the only place where ALL the waiters, when they brought wine to our table, asked ME if I wanted to try it, not my husband!)
This book was quite a find, and I am glad I got it. The murder and its resolution are perfect, the characters believable. I still think about them all, and will read it again soon. And I hope there is a sequel, but remember that Hungarian is a very difficult language, so Robbie must stay in Bo
I stumbled across this writer and this book and am so glad I did. Vintage Murder is well-written and wonderfully informative about the Bordeaux region of France. If you are interested in wine and French history - and if you've always wondered exactly what diplomats do - read this book. William S Shephard manages to seamlessly combine a political mystery and a sophisticated romance with fascinating details about this beautiful and complex region of France. I felt as if I was right there, driving through the vineyard country, flaneuring about the villages and eating the wonderful local delicacies... in fact I now desperately want to return to France. (William S Shephard should receive commission from the Bordeaux Tourism Board!). A lovely read... have gone on to read Murder on the Danube, set in Hungary (wonderfully interesting!) and am anxiously awaiting his book set in the Dordogne which is yet to be available on Kindle.
This is a book sure to intrigue Francophiles, Oenophiles, and diplomatic circle enthusiasts alike, since it is rich in detail of all these areas. Slow to start after introducing the murder of Douglas Pryor, widely disliked for his unfair wine critiques, and taking many side roads, it gradually draws the reader in and builds both the romance and the mystery as it goes. The story reveals the history and culture of the Basque area of France and Spain as it tries to find motive for the murder and for some unexplained occurrences in the wine making community. By interspersing the persepective of the Basque revolutionaries into the narrative, the author continues to build suspense while our hero Robbie Cutler is trying to connect the dots by touring and socializing. Was Pryor murdered by Basque revolutionaries, or by disgruntled winemakers?
Robbie is a thorougly likable character, and the developing relationship between Sylvie and him is delightful. His confidence and competence put him on friendly terms with the police, the higher ranks in the diplomatic circle, and the owners of the wineries. He reminds me of some of the smoother heroes of the movies.
I certainly hope there is a second in the series coming soon, because I must know whether he takes the newly offered position and, if so, how it affects his relationship with Sylvie.