by Sandra Murphy
This week we have a review of the new wine mystery from Janet Hubbard, Bordeaux: The Bitter Finish, along with a fun interview with Janet. At the end of this post are details on how to win a copy of the book.
Bordeaux: The Bitter Finish by Janet Hubbard
Review by Sandra Murphy
Max, a police detective in New York City, has gotten herself into trouble over an excessive force complaint. Nowadays, every cop has to worry that bystanders will have their cell phones out, catching every move for YouTube. Max used an illegal choke hold to subdue the man, had no backup in sight, and the whole thing was posted for everyone to see. It doesn’t help that Joe is not only her partner on the job but at home as well. Was the lack of backup on his part a fluke or deliberate?
In order to lay low for a while and keep face at the same time, she accepts a job as a bodyguard for a friend of her mother’s. They’re off to France for the world’s most prestigious wine tasting. Ellen Jordan is well known in wine circles. She’s charming, knows what she’s talking about and is getting death threats. She’s also pig-headed and wants to do things her own way.
That includes a private meeting with a lover on arrival in France. Max is told that her services are not needed until later so she reluctantly goes to take a nap to avoid jet lag. When she goes to check on Ellen, Max is horrified to find her body. Besides liking Ellen, this isn’t going to do Max’s reputation any good—the client killed on the first day? Things are going downhill fast.
Oh, but there’s more. The examining magistrate is her former lover, Olivier Chaumont. It’s hard to find out the truth in any murder case but in a foreign country, it’s worse. Max has her work cut out for her. Olivier’s presence doesn’t make things easier.
The suspects are many—there are rumors of counterfeit wines, jealous wine tasters, vintners whose wine sales and income depend on a good rating. Ellen’s rating book has gone missing so maybe it was taken because a vintner’s rating dropped. The hotel clerk is particularly obstinate which frustrates Max to no end.
Since the case spans two continents, two police departments, hotel staff, family, friends and lovers, you’ll have to pay close attention to the character’s names. My two favorites are Carlos and Abdel so I hope we’ll see them both again.
There’s a lot of information about wine in the book but it’s woven into the story and not plopped in the middle of the murder. You’ll learn a lot but it will be painless.
First in the Vengeance in the Vineyards series is Champagne: the Farewell.
Interview with Janet Hubbard:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Janet: I have been writing books professionally since the 1990s when I wrote five non-fiction books in a series Avon Books published titled “History Mystery.” Prior to that I was an editor and researcher.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? A little about it?
Janet: My first published novel, Champagne:The Farewell, was published in the fall of 2012. It’s a domestic drama. A murder occurs hours after an elaborate wedding and reception at a grand house in Champagne. NYPD detective Max Maguire is a close friend of the bride and Olivier Chaumont, a juge d’instruction, or magistrate, knew the victim and her family. Tensions mount as the two investigators, who are attracted to each other, have to surmount cultural, legal, and personality differences in order to work the case together.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Janet: No. I came into writing mysteries by chance. The History-Mystery series (YA market) mentioned above focuses on unsolved mysteries (The Curse of the Hope Diamond was the first one I wrote; another was The Curse of the Anasazi.) Later I wrote a CDROM murder mystery, Who Killed Taylor French? which was popular. I also penned more than 20 non-fiction books (mostly biographies) for adolescents under the name Janet Hubbard-Brown. I have a new novel going to my agent late fall. Titled Mara’s Secret, it’s the story of two women whose lives must come apart before they realize the depth of their friendship.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Janet: The setting for Champagne, which is the banner on my webpage, www.janethubbard.com, is the grand house of a dear friend of mine, Astrid Latapie, who was originally going to write the series with me. I attended her wedding in Champagne, and a story was born. When an agent became interested in the series, she wanted Bordeaux\: The Bitter Finish to lead the series, and so Astrid and I went there for a few weeks. We toured and visited chateaux and tasted wine, and I took lots of notes. As for characters, I knew early on that I wanted to create a bi-cultural couple, which would naturally bring out the misunderstandings that arise when people speak different languages. It was interesting to me to have Max be part French, and so I created her French mother, Juliette. The fact that her brother died on her watch, so to speak, gave Max the impetus to become a detective like her famous dad, which might not have happened had her brother lived. The setting of the novel is Bordeaux and New York, as much of the wine trade happens in those two cities. I lived in Manhattan for a decade and return often. I also wanted Olivier to be out of his element in New York City, the way Max was in Bordeaux. Max could really shine in NYC.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Janet: I do write to entertain. I like telling stories. I realized later that the underlying themes in both novels are greed and revenge. (Series title: Vengeance in the Vineyard). Rare wine is a commodity these days that creates great competition among collectors, and the auction houses stir up storms around them. We are in a society where many feel they can never have enough, and that also breeds corruption.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Janet: I’ve been touring for six weeks and have little time to write. When I return to Vermont the second week of May, I will be trying to balance finishing Mara’s Secret and promoting Bordeaux. Just prior to starting my tour I was invited by the extraordinary Turkey Land Cove Foundation on Martha’s Vineyard to come and be in solitude in an extraordinary guest house. Two of the most creative weeks of my life. I wrote all day every day, with breaks to take a walk along the beach. I need to fly to Burgundy, probably in the fall, for a few weeks, so the answer then has to be, I write when I can.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Janet: I do not outline. But early on I know the victim, the villains, and pretty much how the story will unfold. I keep most of it in my head, which necessitates more rewrites.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Janet: No question, early morning.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Janet: It was difficult in the beginning, though I wasn’t terribly consistent about sending out the manuscripts. (Busy writing non-fiction, teaching, editing) Generally, I received thoughtful rejection letters from agents, and a couple of agents said they would consider it if I made major changes. I cooperated, of course, but over time I decided that someone would like it the way it was sent in, which turned out to be the case.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Janet: Kimberly Cameron (Kimberly Cameron and Associates) of San Francisco and Paris is my agent. It was Labor Day Weekend, and having attended a wedding, I sat down, exhausted, and thought I’d scan a list of agents. When I saw the icons of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Eiffel Tower, I whispered, “This is it.” I emailed a letter to her along with 50 pages and brewed a cup of tea. A friend called and while we were chatting, I noticed a call coming from the 415 area code, and thought it another friend. After all, it was a holiday and I had only hit “send” 45 minutes before. Well. I went to my computer and had an email from Kimberly that said, “Love it. Love it.” I called her and she said that she had promised herself not to check one email that day, but she did one quick check as she was going to Hawaii on vacation the next day. Uncanny! Within two weeks we had a contract.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Janet: I had a tremendous turnout the day I launched Champagne: The Farewell in Essex, Vermont at Phoenix Books. My daughter lived in LA, and as I pulled up to the bookstore, I called her to tell her how nervous I was, and how sad I was she couldn’t be there. My son was there, and I couldn’t believe this was happening without her. I told her I was nervous, and she was reassuring. I walked in and she was standing there! I burst into tears.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Janet: I plan to write the third in this series, which will be set in Burgundy. After that, I will start my “southern” novel. I was raised in a small town in Virginia on the North Carolina line, and that story must be told.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Janet: Writing heroes? That’s a good one. Off the top of my head, Tolstoy, Dickens, Flannery O’Connor and Alice Monroe. And all my students who refuse to give up.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Janet: A LOT. I was an editorial assistant, and then a researcher at Time-Life Books years ago, and it was the best training ground imaginable. For Bordeaux I had to get vintages correct, and I had to learn how the import/export system works, and try to understand the lure of fine wines. Even dining at Veritas Restaurant in NYC (one chapter is set there) was research (a fabulous experience, by the way)
KRL: What do you read?
Janet: Over the past few months I have read The Goldfinch by Donna Tart, which transported, and Life After Life, My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, and I am currently reading The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. In the mystery field I love the writers who have endorsed me, which is why I went to them: Craig Johnson, Martin Walker, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Jennifer McMahon (thriller), and Linda Fairstein. I just finished a novel by my colleague at Poisoned Pen Press, Jeffrey Siger, Mykonos After Midnight, which I liked quite a lot.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Janet: I loved Hotel Budapest, which I saw recently. I really liked August: Osage County, and wished I had seen the play. I am a fan of French films, too many to name. I’m not a big T.V. fan, but I’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy from the beginning, though not consistently; I am a fan of Craig Johnson’s Longmire series—and yes, I find Downton Abbey irresistible.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Janet: My advice to my writing students is to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Don’t settle. I also encourage them to persevere. As rejections come in, I encourage them to start working on something else. When the manuscript is ready to be sent out to agents, I remind them that you only need one match, one person to fall in love with your writing.
KRL: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
Janet: I think ebooks have made writers more accessible to more readers, and are a wonderful “invention,” but I also think readers have found they have to be discerning when selecting which ebooks to read. Many, I find, are too hastily thrown together. I still love the feel of a book in my hands.
KRL: Do you read e-books yourself?
Janet: I don’t read e-books, but plan to purchase a reading device and download some books before I return to Europe.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Janet: That I am happiest when alone in my studio writing.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
KRL: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?
Janet: It’s daunting! When Champagne: The Farewell was published 2012, I had no idea how to promote a book, nor did I have a clue how many mysteries are out there. I attended the Bouchercon Mystery Convention in Cleveland that year alone and was stunned by the number of writers and fans. I’m a little more promotion savvy with Bordeaux: The Bitter Finish. I launched it at Book Passage in San Francisco which would not have happened had my agent not strongly recommended me, and from there I read in LA, San Diego, Phoenix, and Denver. I understand the importance of social networking, and work hard at it, but these days I am selling books John Grisham –style. When he started, he sold books out of the trunk of his car.
To enter to win a copy of Bordeaux, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Wine,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen May 17, 2014. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews (including reviews of more of Vicki’s books), book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.