The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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August 5, 2011

Death at the Chateau Bremont

Death at the Chateau Bremont:  a Verlaque & Bonnet Mystery, by M.L. Longworth, is a new mystery (and the start of a new series, I would imagine), by a first time mystery writer.  It's set in the present, in and around Aix-en-Provence, and although there is a crumbling chateau, it isn't full of the usual crusty but charming Provençaux.  It's not quite a 'rich vintage of sparkling Dorothy Sayers and grounded Donna Leon,' either, as the review quote on the back of the book calls it, but that would be a lot to hope for. It was good, though; I did enjoy it, and it could turn into a good series.

Verlaque is Antoine Verlaque, the chief magistrate in Aix (a role that allows him to investigate crimes), and Bonnet is Marine Bonnet, a a young professor of law and Verlaque's ex.  She is a childhood friend of Etienne de Bremont, the heir to the Chateau, and Verlaque calls on her for help when Etienne falls to his death from a window in the chateau's attic.

The character-drawing is still a little flat. Verlaque is supposed to be incredibly handsome and seductive, but Marine's friends all think she is well rid of him.  It's almost as if we're constantly told this, instead of being allowed to see it through the writing. The landscape and the atmosphere of Aix are more strongly called out {I've been there, once, briefly, and I could see the city that I remember}, and, best of all, there's the food.

It's not just that. this being France, the Juge and Paulik, his policeman-partner, spend several hours over lunch on a working day (and they discuss every bite in delicious detail).  It's that when Paulik brings brioche to Verlaque's apartment one morning, Verlaque's first thought is to ask which patisserie they're from.  There's an important clue involving brioche, and they're the last thing Etienne de Bremont thinks about as he falls. Verlaque, the supposedly seductive one, even thinks about Marine in terms of food:

Before she could answer, the waiter came and they placed their orders. Verlaque tried not to wince when Marine took too long to make her decision, and then ordered an entree and main dish that were not compatible -- a fish soup with rouille paste followed by yet more fish and garlic, an aioli platter. He could not order for her, he knew from past experience:  she would only get silent and sullen. Astounded, he wondered how she could eat rouille and aioli at the same sitting and still have taste buds left for dessert.
      He caught himself daydreaming, remembering a birthday dinner they once shared in Marseille's most exclusive restaurant, Le Petit Nice, when every dish Marine ordered had foie gras. During one of their fights, Marine had said that he was too bourgeois and that she was simpler than he was.  Marine was at times -- many times -- a country girl, not even sure of how to order a meal in a restaurant. How funny it was that she was the one with the respected Provencal family -- her parents, both strict Catholics, her father a doctor and her mother a theology professor -- and yet Marine seemed to know so little about manners and etiquette. He blamed it on socialism.
I hope there will be another book in this new series, but I think Marine's friends are right. :)

1 comment:

Kristin said...

Great review! You've captured just how I felt about it in terms of the flat characterization. That scene with Verlaque & Marine in the restaurant stood out for me too. I'll definitely read the next one in the series... and Marine's friends are definitely right!

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