Sunday, June 19, 2016

Home of burgundy … and murder: R.M. Cartmel’s L’AFFAIRE RICHEBOURG

As I write this I am sitting in a little hotel in Beaune, Bourgogne, in the heart of the burgundy-producing area of France. I have to admit that I am not a wine buff. Until a couple of years ago, I couldn’t touch alcohol. Now I have the occasional sip of wine, and the even more occasional ‘flooded’ gin – which means a very small amount of gin accompanied by a very large amount of tonic.

So, you might wonder, why go to such a place of vinicultural worship?

It started at CrimeFest in May, with an invite from Sarah Williams of Crime Scene Books and The Book Consultancy. I’d seen Sarah at numerous events, but not had any great chance to talk with her until Bouchercon in North Carolina last year when, together with one of her authors, R.M. ‘Dick’ Cartmel, we were almost ‘last men standing’ in the bar on Sunday evening.

R.M. 'Dick' Cartmel, hard at work, chiselling fresh words from the word face
But out of the blue at Bristol, Sarah asked me if I’d like to join her, production manager Kelly Mundt, and Dick himself for a trip to burgundy the following month to help celebrate the launch of Dick’s first novel in translation, L’AFFAIRE RICHEBOURG, translated into French by Françoise Renevret.

How could I resist the lure of a part of France unknown to me, as well as a chance to compare the French high-speed TGV to the Shinkansen I’d ridden in Japan?
The TGV, displaying a magnificent insect collection
Coupled to that, I am currently reading the English version of Dick’s book – THE RICHEBOURG AFFAIR – and thoroughly enjoying the diffident character of Commander Charlemagne Truchaud, and a storyline that is interwoven with the business of winemaking. I hope the French take it to their hearts. The book – and the series – deserves all success.
The countryside of the burgundy region, as seen from the TGV
Dick Cartmel has a long association with this area of France, visiting as a child, and returning as a medical student in Dijon, probably more years ago than he cares to recall. He has a close relationship with friend Alain Ampaud, whom he refers to as his “French brother”. Indeed, it is Alain’s mother-in-law who did the translation for RICHEBOURG, and the book is dedicated to Alain’s grandmother.

During his student years, Dick wrote an alternative-history novella, but it wasn’t until he retired from his Peterborough General Practice in June 2012 that he returned to his passion for the written word. “I set off for Nuits-Saint-Georges the following day.” He had already spent holidays for the previous five years sitting in cafés in the town with Truchaud whispering in his ear.

He conceived the stories as a trilogy from the outset, with THE RICHEBOURG AFFAIR (2014) beginning in the spring with the pruning and the first shoots of the vines, moving through the summer flowering with THE CHARLEMAGNE CONNECTION (2015) and finally on to the last installment, which will be called THE ROMANÉE VINTAGE, set in September and due for publication early next year.

Truchaud, so Dick claims, arrived almost fully formed, with his name and signature trenchcoat intact. “That was probably something to do with Columbo,” he admits. “I’ve done all sorts of unspeakable things to that trench coat.”

Truchaud himself is rather shy, and uncomfortable with women – especially those with whom he has some kind of romantic attachment. Dick has spent some time with the local gendarmerie, asking questions, but the books have allowed him to indulge in his other passion, which is wine in general and the wines of the burgundy region in particular.

As well as help on the forensics side from pathologist Nick Marquez-Grant, Dick also has a “vinicultural editor, David Clark,” who advises on any technical matters beyond Dick’s range of knowledge.

However, Dick likes to be hands-on in his research, spending most of September 2014 picking and sorting grapes alongside experts with years of experience. A crop of bonnes mares and musigny grapes were saved almost by instinct before a violent storm would have ruined that year’s crop. “The musigny grapes are used to make a wine that is described as slipping down your throat like little Jesus in velvet trousers.”
One of the premier vineyards of the area. Each vine is possibly a hundred years old and worth a lot of money.
Beaune and Nuits-Saint-Georges are certainly beautiful French towns, the soft sandstone buildings contrasting with the sharp rooflines, and the serried rows of vines standing squat and orderly in the vast roadside vineyards. I can understand the quiet fascination it holds for Dick, even without quite his level of practiced appreciation of the wine itself. Indeed, if the much-vaunted ‘Brexit’ is voted for next week, he may well be moving out here more permanently.

Second in the trilogy
This week’s Word of the Week is viniculture, meaning the science, study and cultivation of grapes specifically for making wine, as opposed to viticulture which simply means the science, study and cultivation of grapes in general.


  1. Oh, Zoe, here we go with the envy again. Burgundy whites are my FAVORITES!! I hope your stay there is splendid.

    1. It's been a delight, Annamaria. And tiny bits of my very rusty French are slowly returning to me.

  2. All the success you describe couldn't happen to an nicer guy. I've been a big fan of Dick's since reading the manuscript of "A Richebourg Affair," and here's what I wrote in a blurb back then.

    "R.M. Cartmel's The Richebourg Affair is a well-crafted treasure of unforgettable characters, eloquent yet whimsical language, intrigues burrowed into the ways of classic French wine making, and vintage murder mystery writing. I felt so comfortable in Cartmel's hands as a storyteller that I couldn't believe it's a debut novel."

    1. I'm thoroughly enjoying THE RICHEBOURG AFFAIR myself, Jeff, and agree with your sentiments entirely.

  3. My apologies, by the way, for the late arrival of the pictures for this post. It was due to the temperamental nature of French hotel internet access, and leaves on the line.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.