Death in the Vines by M.L.Longworth

Death in VinesMystery, murder and mayhem among the vineyards of Rognes, a quiet Provençal village about 15 kilometres from Aix-en-Provence and one of the settings for this third in the Verlaque and Bonnet Provençal mystery series for M.L.Longworth, one time resident of Aix-en-Provence, who has herself decamped to one of the smaller villages of Provence, no doubt set to inspire more enticing destinations in future adventures of her detecting duo.

I reviewed her first mystery Death at the Château Bremont last year, when the author visited the book club I participate in. Since then there has been a second book Murder in the Rue Dumas and now we pick up with Judge Verlaque and his law professor amoureuse Marine Bonnet, in the third book, with as many gourmet references as we have come to expect previously.

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Château Paradis, Puy Sainte Reparade

The story begins in Rognes, with a wine theft and a missing persons report, a suspected walkabout. Some of the Bonnard winery’s best wines have disappeared, although the key to the cellar remains where it has always been and tensions are running high among family members, all of whom have become potential suspects.

Back in Aix, Madame Pauline d’Arras appears to have gone walkabout without her dog, most unusual according to her fretting husband Gilles, who has never gone a day in forty-two years of marriage without his wife preparing lunch for him by twelve-thirty. He is concerned as she has been exhibiting signs of possible early dementia.

In the village of Éguilles, a young woman leaves work early and is found later by a colleague in a bad state having been assaulted, she is taken to hospital and will soon become the subject of a suspected murder investigation.

Longworth has fun with not one, but three mysterious incidents and in particular some of the false leads which allow the Judge and us readers to go on various jaunts around the countryside, cross a famous bridge and dine in celebrated locations  he would otherwise have had to wait to indulge in his own time.

Knowing the routes they take, this book offers more than just a tale of mild suspense, it is like an invitation to explore more of Provence, to imagine sampling its wines, observe its pastimes (boules) and picture the lives of its villagers and long-established wine cultivating families.

TGVtrainJust as the region itself is changing, the TGV(train à grande vitesse or high-speed train) line attracting more Parisian commuters and foreigners wishing to invest in the continuation of artisan expertise in the French vineyards; so too is the city of Aix changing, an entire new quartier of modern buildings housing cultural centres of opera, dance, music, a new shopping area, an upgraded bus station with Europe’s longest living wall, showing off the architectural stamp of Kengo Kuma, a name more at home in Tokyo, New York or Beijing. This town is ensuring it will continue to attract visitors interested not just in its intriguing and ancient past, but that it can show itself worthy of contemporary interest also.

However the long-established, multi-generation residents don’t always embrace the new and Longworth allows her characters to despise the new developments in the way of a local population and national character that loves nothing more than a good long debate, although she doesn’t indulge them quite that far.

The Mayoress of aix en Provence  Maryse Joissains-Masini

The Mayoress of Aix-en-Provence
Maryse Joissains-Masini

The changes reflect a 21st century renewal and political statement, the creation of a legacy by a Mayoress who isn’t afraid to spend big on infrastructure during a recession and to court the popular vote. She spends with the frenzy of a woman who sees the finishing line in her sights. Will she survive the mayoral elections in 2014? It will be an interesting campaign to watch.

Overall, an entertaining and enjoyable light read that is all the better for allowing the reader to dwell among the vines and villages of a beautiful region.

Any book that allows one to travel when circumstances dictate that it not possible to physically go there, is the next best thing in my book.

Note: This book was an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

Death at the Château Bremont

There is a shelf in our local bookstore dedicated to books crossing numerous genres that have a connection with France, you will find nonfiction travelogues such as Sarah Turnbull’s ‘Almost French’ or David Sedaris’ vignettes in ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’, funny, true, yet never denigrating the country that has become like a second home to him. You will also find English translations of popular French authors like Jean Giono and Michel Houellebecq and novels set in France.

Death at the Château Bremont fits into latter, not only set in France, but here in Aix-en-Provence. I first became aware of the title thanks to a review by Lynne at Aixcentric, an excellent and informative blog I read regularly to know what’s happening in and around the area where I live.

Just yesterday I read that tonight is the annual Nuit des Musées when the town’s museums are free and open from 8pm until 1am. We love this annual late night out.

Not long after that mention, the book-club that I read along with nominated it as their May read and the author M.L.Longworth who lives here in Aix-en-Provence, was invited to join us. So, a fascinating insight into the gestation of this, first in the ‘Verlaque and Bonnet Mystery’ series, which follows the lives, dramas and intrigues of Judge Antoine Verlaque and Professor Marine Bonnet, his sometime amoureuse.

It’s a mystery and in order to keep the mystery alive, I will only reveal that Étienne de Bremont falls to his death from a Château window, an investigation is requested and after some drama involving clandestine affairs, jealous siblings, polo players, Russian millionaires and a New York suicide, all will slowly be revealed.

What makes Longworth’s mystery unique is the journey. It is far from dark and gory, realms she has no apparent appetite for, however she will take you on a gastronomic excursion through the towns, vineyards and countryside of the region, visiting suspects while piecing together the connections and clues to the lives of those involved in this conspiracy. So not just a book for aficionados of mystery’s, but one for food and wine lovers and anyone who has ever dreamed of living and working in a city of culture and gastronomy in the South of France.

M.L.Longworth with Claire McAlpine

No tourist visit, this literary journey is the real thing and so agreed the group of eight women who were present to discuss the book, all sharing their favourite parts, confirming the locations the book visits and even suggesting others for the third book, which the author is working on, all suggestions were gratefully received and noted.

M.L. Longworth’s second book in the series, ‘Murder in the Rue Dumas’ will be published on 25 September 2012.