“The Anjou Wine” is the first chapter in this rollicking adventure tale reminiscent of Alexandre Dumas, the famous French author of The Three Musketeers saga, and plays a starring role in this week’s recipe, too. The Club Dumas, in short, is the tale of Lucas Corso, an antique book dealer who is sent in search of a rare manuscript that can supposedly summon The Devil himself. Corso operates with a very gray and flexible set of morals – or lack thereof – and is one of literature’s more interesting characters. He has a sort of Sam Spade gumshoe vibe that makes him quite endearing, combined with his ability to wiggle out of potentially dangerous situations. I guess you could call him a charming combination of hard-boiled detective, book scholar, historian, spy, ladies’ man and musketeer.
The book Corso is hired to find, The Nine Doors, turns out to be three books – one original and two copies – and as he begins to study them to determine the authenticity, he comes to realize that the secret solution to calling up Satan is to combine elements from all three books into one. Along the way, as he travels from Spain to Portugal to France trying to learn the origins of the books and to tie them together, he is embroiled in what appears to be a murder mystery that combines Satanism, literary theory, The Three Musketeers, femmes fatales, a deus ex machina rescue in the form of a mysterious young woman who may or may not be Lucifer’s agent on Earth, and a climactic scene in which Corso learns exactly who his mysterious prey truly is and what exactly he is seeking.
The book also makes marvelous use of illustrations and graphics, cleverly incorporating woodcut images from the book Corso is hired to authenticate. It has depictions that are reminiscent of the medieval Tarot deck, featuring a hanging man, Death playing a game of chess with a man, a castle with mazes, a knight on horseback riding to a castle in the distance, and many other mysterious images that just enhance the rest of the book. The Nine Doors was supposedly authored by Satan himself, so with that in mind, looking at the woodcut images makes the novel that much more interesting because it makes the reader want to understand the backstory to all of the images.
It has its moments of pure campy self-awareness, particularly when it begins to mimic The Three Musketeers. Corso, whether consciously or not, sees the ongoing mystery surrounding him as coming to live from pages of Dumas’ masterpiece; a clever quasi-metafiction device that I appreciated greatly. Books that play off other books are always so enjoyable, because they give you a backdrop and perspective against which to understand the story and also an appreciation of the writer’s ability. Being a book nerd myself, I always love literary thrillers that take the reader through a labyrinth of clues, references, red herrings, dead ends and unreliable narrators. This book rings all my literary bells, and what makes it even better is that for all its erudition and academia, it reads with the pace of a thriller. A word of advice, however…..do not watch the atrocious film with Johnny Depp based on this book. Just…..don’t. Thank me later.
The amusing twist at the end, when Corso meets the actual Club Dumas and learns that they are essentially a group of book nerds, though made up of wealthy artists, professors (including a deliciously subtle nod to my hero Umberto Eco – “Look who’s arrived. You know him, don’t you? Professor of semiotics in Bologna”), is wonderful. The Club Dumas meets in the cellar of the historic and ancient Chateau de Meung-Sur-Loire in the French countryside where all of these literary types are engaged in witty conversation and feasting like oligarchs on some very Alexandre Dumas-themed food and drink.
“On the central table covered with a white linen cloth, there was a cold buffet: bottles of Anjou wine, sausages and hams from Amiens, oysters from La Rochelle, boxes of Montecristo cigars.”
I love oysters, though they must be baked for me to eat them because eating them raw is like swallowing an enormous wad of snot or phlegm. No thank you. So, being inspired by the foodie description above, I decided to make baked oysters stuffed with sausage and served with – you guessed it – wine from the Anjou region in France.
A dozen oysters, shucked (keep the shells)
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
2 good-quality pork sausages
3 tablespoons red wine
1 tablespoon dried thyme
Olive oil, to drizzle
1-2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 cup herbed breadcrumbs
Heat the oven to 400F and mince the shallot and garlic.
Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and cook the shallots and garlic until softened. Sprinkle over a dash of sea salt to keep them from burning.
Squeeze the sausage meat from its casings and add to the shallot and garlic mix.
Add the red wine, the dried thyme, salt and pepper, stir to mix, and cook the meat through.
Set out your oysters and put two teaspoons of the sausage mixture on top of each little gray ball of snot.
Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top and drizzle over a bit of olive oil, then arrange in a cast-iron baking dish and bake for 5-7 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden.
Sprinkle the chives on top and serve immediately, washed down with chilled Anjou rosé. YUM!