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A Visit to the French Police (September 10, 2004)

from Blood is Thicker than Beaujolais

Beware the enterprise not launched with champagne. Remember the Titanic; no bottle was broken over its bow.

The thought floated through Ezra's troubled mind as he mounted the worn stone steps of the police station.

He paused before entering, allowing himself time to recall the macabre events of the morning so that he could tell his side of the story.

The squat building with its flaking mustard-coloured facade was located on the north side of the square next to Haut St. Antoine's town hall. At tables under the plane trees in the main square, old men with blue berets and red faces sat on wicker chairs nursing tiny glasses of Beaujolais. The bistro on the corner was filled with truck drivers and merchants. Everything seemed in suspension just waiting for November 18, the third Thursday of the month, when the new wine would be released.

The old men watched Ezra as he hesitated on the top step, hands deep in his heavy blue overcoat pockets. He seemed to fill the doorway, his reddish complexion accentuated by the shock of prematurely white hair that had a life of its own in the afternoon breeze. His large expanse of forehead, deeply lined, was corrugated in a frown.

Do it, he commanded himself.

Once inside his acute sense of smell, honed over twenty-two years of detecting wines' elusive fragrances, picked up the chalky smell of dampness and the more pungent scent of stale tobacco. The reception desk, he noticed, was no bigger than the one in his hotel but the uniformed gendarme pecking at a typewriter behind it was far less obliging than the owner's wife, the bosomy Madame Barriere.

On the wall above the seated cop hung a faded portrait of General de Gaulle in full military uniform.

"My name is Ezra Brant. I would like to see your senior officer," he said in a loud voice, hoping his message would carry beyond the frosted glass doors to the inner office.

His French accent made the man look up abruptly. In the presence of public servants Ezra adopted the air of someone who had little time to spend on explanations at a low level.

"Your business?"

"It is a matter of great seriousness I wish to discuss."

Ezra realized as soon as he had uttered the words that they sounded as pompous in French as they did in English; but they seemed to have the desired effect on the young policeman who rose from his chair, buttoned the jacket of his uniform and knocked on the glass doors. He slid them open wide enough to squeeze through without allowing Ezra a glimpse inside and closed them after him. Presently, he was back.

"Inspector Chasselas will see you," he said, beckoning Ezra in.

As a wine writer, it pleased Ezra that the local police chief was named after a grape variety. He made his way across the black and white tiled floor to the Inspectors office.

"Monsieur Brant. I am Chasselas. Sit down, please."

Ezra found himself facing a man of medium height with a round face emphasized by a pair of moon-shaped spectacles and a half beard. The beard was white, as if its owner had lowered his chin into a bowl of flour; but his hair, carefully styled with some substance that made it shine under the neon light, was jet black and not the dead black one usually associates with artificial colouring. It was blue-black, the colour of a revolver.

The eyes behind the tinted lenses were shrewd and challenging. The lips were thin and almost nonexistent. The manicured hands touched the lapels of his expensively cut suit.

"You speak English, Inspector."

"A little. You are surprised. In such a tiny backwater, you are thinking. But it is expected of us. Beaujolais attracts a great deal of attention nowadays. It was not always so."

"I only wish my French were as good as your English."

"But your country is bilingual, is it not?"

"Officially, yes. But I didn't come here to..."

Chasselas held up his hand and opened a file in front of him.

"Ezra Brant, journalist from Toronto, Canada. Wife, Constance Elizabeth. Residing at Hotel Sarment d'Or. I would have thought a journalist of your reputation. Monsieur Brant, would have chosen to stay at – well, there are many fine hotels in the region."

Ezra was both flattered and annoyed. He realized that Chasselas was reading from a file the police had opened on him. The thought discomfited him but he was determined not to let it show.

"If you know that much about me, Inspector, then tell me why I'm here."

Inspector Chasselas shrugged and pursed his lips.

"I'm listening. Monsieur."

"I came to report a murder."

Find out what happens next... buy the book, Blood is Thicker than Beaujolais, by Tony Aspler, now only $12 plus $6 for shipping and handling (plus GST).

Or buy the series of three Ezra Brant novels, Blood is Thicker than Beaujolais, The Beast of Barbaresco and Death on the Douro, for $30 plus $8 for shipping and handling (plus GST).

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Here's a bit more about the books:

Blood is Thicker than Beaujolais
Wine writer Ezra Brant and his wife Connie travel to the remote French village of Haut St. Antoine for a relaxing vacation while Ezra reports on the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau. But after a visit to a local cave cellar Ezra ends up reporting a body to the police instead.

Troubled by the apparent lack of interest in finding the murderer and the village's silence about the victim, Ezra gets on the case – much to Connie's chagrin. While the other tourists join in the idyllic harvest celebration, Ezra and Connie are drawn relentlessly into a dangerous web of murder, fraud and international intrigue.

The Beast of Barbaresco
For wine writer Ezra Brant, the trip to the picturesque Piedmontese village of Barbaresco to help judge the annual wine competition was supposed to be a restful interlude – despite all the talk of a serial killer the locals have dubbed "the Beast."

But when a fellow wine writer disappears without a trace, Ezra has no choice but to investigate. Could his colleague have become the latest victim of the Beast? Or does his disappearance have to do with a story he had been pursuing? Ezra puts his wine knowledge to work in finding the truth, in spite of all the obstacles set before him... including a charming Irish redhead.

Death on the Douro
When Matthew Sykes, scion of an old port shipping family, extends an invitation to wine writer Ezra Brant to attend his quinta's bicentennial celebration in Oporto, Ezra is delighted to accept. An all-expenses-paid trip to sunny Portugal is just what he needs, and the visit will dovetail nicely with his research for a book on the history of port wine.

But when Ezra arrives, he finds his friend Sykes has more on his mind than the anniversary fete. A series of strange and sinister incidents around the Quinta San Pedro point to a deliberate attempt to derail the big party. When murder becomes part of the picture, Ezra becomes more determined than ever to find out what really lies behind the events.




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