Thursday, March 06, 2008


This is the week from hell!

I have an event every night this week, plus two panels at the Left Coast Crime convention in Denver.

Following Monday night's successful talk and signing at Murder by the Book in Houston, last night we braved the Texas primaries and the Democratic caucusers to make our way to the Alliance Francaise for another talk, and a wine-tasting.

Our endeavours to ensure that we had Gaillac wines available for tasting at all our book events have been on-going for more than a year. But last night we cut it really fine.

A case of Domaine Sarrabelle's Saint Andre red arrived - air-freighted from the east coast - just one hour before the event. There would have been more, except that the cost of the air-freighting was greater than the cost of the wine, and compromises had to be made.

However, the wine for the evening was provided by a great Texan character called Bear Dalton, whom we had met during a radio interview in Houston last year. Bear owns the biggest chain of liquor stores in Texas - Specs. There are twenty-four stores in all, and Bear travels to France every year, complete with stetson and cowboy boots, to taste and order wines for his shelves. He is a well-known personality among the vineyards of Bordeaux and Burgundy, and renowned for his excellent palate and knowledge of wines.

But last night was a first for Bear. He had never before tasted a Gaillac wine. And his first sips of Sarrabelle's Saint Andre brought fulsome praise. He told the audience who had gathered at the Alliance Francaise that it was an excellent red, peppery and spicy, with good fruit, and that he intended ordering it for all his stores - because he knew that his customers would enjoy drinking it.

Which is great news for Domaine Sarrabelle!

Bear had also provided a Cahors red, a Mercues - a personal favourite of La Patronne and myself. And particularly apposite, since the hero of my Enzo Files series, Enzo Macleod, lives in the south-western town of Cahors itself - just an hour south of our own French home.

The attendance at the event was good, in spite of a record turnout in the Texas primary. A lot of books were sold and signed, and the wine correspondent for the local paper checked in with me for an interview to write up the event and the wines of Gaillac.

A successful evening was rounded off by a stop on the drive back to Huntsville at a P.F Chang's chinese restaurant with Dick and Michelle - and a chance for me to repay at least a little of the wonderful hospitality we had received from our hosts.

Since it is now official, I can write for the first time about something that was on-going throughout our stay in Huntsville. At age 69, Dick has been head-hunted by a private criminal justice college in Connecticut. The deal was signed and sealed yesterday, and after nearly ten years in Texas, Dick, Michelle, and daughter Sophia, will be uprooting this summer to go and establish a new home in New England. The start of yet another turn in what has been, and continues to be, a very illustrious career.

I can't imagine that publishers will still be hounding me for new books when I'm 69!

As I write this, I am aboard a flight from Houston to Denver, Colorado - where, apparently, it is snowing! And I'm reflecting on our stay in Texas. One of the highlights was the barbecue last Sunday at Dick's ranch. Dick's house always seems full of bright young students who hang on his every word. These are the creme de la creme of the criminal justice students, and it wouldn't surprise me if many of them followed Dick to the north-east.

These guys and girls are not only smart, they're funny too. Razor sharp wit. We all sat around watching Dick's high-def big screen TV during a transmission of CBS's 60-minutes current affairs documentary. They were airing an item about a ray-gun developed by the US military. A huge dish, mounted on an armoured vehicle, can send powerful, invisible rays over half a mile to stop anyone in their tracks. The sensation, apparently, is of intense heat, although no actual harm is done. But it is so unpleasant, no one will advance into the path of the rays.

To demonstrate it to 60-minutes, the military had assembled a group of soldiers dressed as civilian protesters, and fired the ray-gun at them to stop their advance. Unfortunately, they had provided these mock demonstrators with placards that read, WORLD PEACE, and PEACE AND LOVE. Clearly anyone who wanted world peace was a serious threat. After all, if it were ever to be achieved, the military would be out of a job.

The CBS reporter didn't seem to see the irony. But it wasn't lost on Dick's students. Everyone fell about, helpless with laughter. And when the reporter commented that anyone who advanced into the ray would have to be hugely determined, one of the students quipped, "Yeh, he'd have to want world peace real bad!"

What made it even more comical was the reaction of those hit by the ray. They all threw up their arms in bizarre fashion and turned and ran away. Hard to take seriously. And its lack of portability might also prove a problem. The military are clearly still trailing in the wake of Star Trek. "Set phasers to stun", is apparently some way off yet. No wonder they are finding it hard to get funding!

So it's farewell to Texas sunshine, and it's hello to Rocky Mountain snows. And that bolt of lightning that Hillary Clinton was hoping for last night, seems to have come through for her - against all the predictions of the pundits. She won Texas and Ohio and stopped Obama in his tracks.

Television screens everywhere during our trip so far have been filled with election coverage. Wall to wall. And it looks now, as if it will continue through the rest of the tour - and beyond. I don't know about the good folk of America, but I for one am suffering from election fatigue already.

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