Who doesn’t love a trilogy? Back to the Future, Lord of the Rings, The Godfather, even Star Wars (still 3 very different trilogies).
So it was a welcome surprise when an email popped in to my inbox asking me if I’d like to take a look at the third literary offering from wine buyer turned author Peter Stafford-Bow; Firing Blancs.
Wine books may generally tend to be directed towards academia but here, as in the first two books Corkscrew and Brut Force (see my articles here and here), the wine facts are paired with laugh-out-loud situations and comedy, giving a refreshing (and unique, at the time of writing) take on the wine business.
Although those with knowledge of the wine world will absolutely see rewarding extra detail and in-jokes within the narrative, the books are easily suited to non-wine lovers alike.
As with the first two novels, Firing Blancs sees us reunited with our wine-buying central hero Felix Hart, once again accidentally finding himself in a spot of retail bother, this time accidentally choking his CEO to death during a boardroom presentation.
Banished from the office as far away as they can get him, Hart ends up posted to South Africa in an effort to improve the pay and conditions for workers in the local vineyards. The comic narrative routinely sees him also try people’s patience, try lots of the local food and wines and ultimately, try to stay alive!
One of the central themes of the book is the work of the fictional Fairly Trod organisation, a wine themed alternate-universe version of the real Fairtrade organisation. Ensuring that all workers are treated equally and remunerated fairly, the author would have had no way of foreseeing just how prominent the Black rights movement would be at the time of the book’s release. Handled sensitively and entirely appropriately within the narrative it’s a serious topic that never overweighs itself or becomes preaching.
Full of rich and layered characters, Firing Blancs is clearly more complex than its previous younger siblings, but complex in a good way. The weaving plot layers canter on at a fast pace, leaving the reader turning page after page, eager to find out how each situation will affect the next.
The facet most appealing to me was the richly drawn South African backdrop, and the little details peppered throughout which could only be written by someone who has lived and breathed that air. My chats with author Peter around the time of the launch of Corkscrew indeed confirmed that his first novel was conceived when he was posted out there on business.
Like a good wine, the Felix Hart saga is maturing well with age. The book is absolutely made for the ‘holiday read’ market but, if you can’t get away this year due to the pandemic, read it in the garden with a glass of something lovely and let it mentally take you overseas instead.
As Firing Blancs was being launched, I once again spoke to Peter about the future of the Felix character; will it be left as a solid trilogy or are there further stories out there waiting to be written? Thankfully I can confirm that we’ll be treated to more shenanigans in due course as Felix makes his way around Asia and Hong Kong, and who knows what this will look like in a post-Covid world? Let’s hope it isn’t too long before we find out.
Firing Blancs, and the previous novels Corkscrew and Brut Force are highly recommended and available at all good book retailers, including Amazon.