Category Archives: Art

Eat Your Way Through This Mystery Set in Provence

Book: The Mystery of the Lost Cézanne by M. L. Longworth

Destination: Aix en Provence, France

This is the fifth outing for the Provence couple Antoine Verlaque, prosecutor, and Marine Bonnet, law professor. A painting disappears, that may or may not be an authentic work of the most famous resident of Aix, Paul Cézanne,  so we are treated to a secondary plot line that takes us back to the artist’s life.

When I previously reviewed Death in the Vines, an earlier installment of the Verlaque and Bonnet mysteries, I complained that it was difficult to keep the characters straight.  Whether my reading skills have improved, or M. L. Longworth has done a better job of individualizing the characters, I don’t know. But I did not have that problem with this book. Each character is unique and interesting. There are a lot of people to keep straight–mainly Verlaque’s cigar club members, the residents and manager of the apartment building where a murder takes place, the parents of both Verlaque and Bonnet, art experts, and policemen. The back story features just two characters–the artist and a young woman.

French Pastries
French Pastries – Arles, JohnPickenPhoto from

In addition to the human characters, a supposed historic bakery of Aix,  Michaud’s, takes center stage in both the present and the past. (It seems that Michaud’s is a literary creation, perhaps based on Reiderer in Aix, and borrowing the name of a former Paris cafe where Hemmingway and Scott Fitzgerald dined. Regardless of whether there ever was a Michaud’s in Aix, and where Cezanne picked up his pastries –and his tart–the description of breads and desserts had me drooling on the book. I also salivated over the meals eaten by the picky gourmet, Verlaque.

Aix, France
Cours Mirabeau in Aix, where Verlaque frequently strolls. Photo by MoritzP on

And therein lies the charm of Longworth’s series. The mystery–basically a cozy cum police procedural– is a light read and not particularly challenging as mysteries go. But she absolutely shines at placing the reader squarely in the Provençal atmosphere and mind set, and tempting us to travel there with loving descriptions of buildings, scenery and food and wine.  I have not been to Aix, and keep forgetting how to pronounce it (easier than it seems–ecks) but Longworth tempts me to add southern France to my destinations.

Cezanne painting
Paul Cezanne – Basket of Apples. “I will astonish Paris with an apple.” Photo from Click for info.

And as a further benefit, the mystery takes you into the world of the painter, Paul Cézanne. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the descriptions of where the artist lived. Perhaps the apartment (where the murder takes place and the painting goes missing) is poetic license just as the pastry shop is. Never mind.  The walks around Aix with Verlaque still give you a vivid picture of the old town. A highly recommended read for the traveler to Provence or the armchair traveler, as well as all fans of Cézanne.

This site describes a walk through Cezanne’s favorite places, and it also lists some good books about Cézanne.

Note: The publisher provided this book for review, which is standard procedure and has no influence on my opinions.  You should know that I am an Amazon affiliate, so any purchases you make through the links to Amazon in this post will earn me a few cents, even though it costs you no more.  Thanks for your support.

Back to France and the Impressionists

Book Cover: LIsette's List
Destination: Paris and Provence

Book: Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland

I never resist the lure of France–particularly when you combine, a book, fine art and some history with the trip.  I’ve read several books and movies about the artists of France here, for example,


So how could I resist a new book by Susan Vreeland, Lisette’s List,  that is set in both Paris and Roussillon in Provence, and introduces  Cézanne, Pissarro,  Picasso, and Chagall?

Lisette, the central character is forced to leave her beloved Paris and live in primitive Provence, but there she learns more about art than she ever imagined, and finds safe haven during World War II.

She suffers the loss of the two people most important to her, but learns how capable she is of survival. She matures and works on her life list, which includes the seemingly impossible “#4: Learn what makes a painting great.”

Roussillon, Provence, France
Le Village de Roussillon, Provence, France. Photo by Vincent Brassinne, used with Creative Commons license. See the ochre cliffs in the foreground.

The town of Roussillon is an important character in the book, since it is the site of ochre mines–a place where artists get many shades of color. As Lisette learns to look with fresh eyes at art, she also learns to see people and life in new ways. Vreeland has created a satisfying conglomeration of small-town people to surround Lisette.

The driver of the action of the book is a collection of seven paintings that her husband’s grandfather acquired when he was an ochre salesman and befriended Pissarro, and Cézanne.  Lisette herself meets Marc Chagall and his wife Bella who hide out in a neighboring village during the war, and adds another painting to the collection.

Pissaro painting
A Cowherd at Valhermeil, Auvers-sur-Oise, by Camille Pissarro. Metropolitan Museum of NYC. Photo by Thomas Hawk

But for most of the book, Lisette holds the paintings only in memory, because before the war, her husband hid them for safety from the Nazis.  Her search for the paintings drives the plot.  However, I found this part of the book unsatisfactory, as it was entirely too predictable and sometimes even repetitive.

For someone with no familiarity with the artists in the book, the discussion of their techniques and styles is a good preliminary introduction to painting. However, if you have a background in art, it may seem a bit too much like an art appreciation course. The author’s love of the art and the countryside are evident. Without question, she throws a great deal of research into her work.

I was hoping for more depth, and now am tempted to read one of Vreeland’s earlier biographical novels, each focused on one artist’s life, to see if those books would be more to my liking. Lisette’s List has some interesting things going for it, particularly in the development of characters, and portrayal of a lesser-known part of France’s art world, but it tends to lean toward straight romance rather than the art historic novel I was hoping for.

I must praise her for bringing to our attention the fascinating village of Rousillon, that certainly is a temptation for travelers. Vreeland’s descriptive powers fit well with a book centered on seeing and observing. Her portrayal of the town and landscape is enough to recommend the book to travelers who read.

Is that unfair?  After all Vreeland wrote the book that she wrote. What I was looking for is beside the point. Have you read any of Vreeland’s books?  Tell me about your reactions.

George Clooney is in Bed With Me

The Parthenon in Athens, Greece
The Parthenon in Athens, Greece
George Clooney
George Clooney from Wikipedia, Photographer: Nicolas Genin from Paris, France

George Clooney agrees that Britain should do the right thing and return the statues stolen by Lord Elgin from the Parthenon in Athens. Clooney, joined by Matt Damon and Bill Murray made this statement to the London Paper The Guardian while promoting his film The Monument Men, which is about rescuing art and artifacts.

And now the British Museum is sticking a thumb in the eye of the Greeks with a brand new exhibit on the human body in Greek Art–featuring guess what? The Parthenon statues of course.  Why? Because, as this article in the Guardian points out, the Greek artifacts are a real money maker for the British Museum.  Attendance was up last year by 20%, and the Parthenon art has been one of the major draws for years, even supporting its own audio tour and gift shop. The Guardian, in an article about the new Greek sculpture show said,

…director Neil MacGregor said the exhibition, planned for next spring, would include “key loans”, he refused to say whether the museum will be seeking any of the sculptures from the Parthenon temple thatGreece still holds or any other loans from Greece.

Fat chance!

Ever since I visited the new Acropolis Museum in Athens, I have felt strongly that Great Britain should do the right thing and give back the statues from the Parthenon.

I’ve written frequently about my strong feelings about this looted art, and am so glad to have George Clooney in bed with me…oh, wait a minute….that’s not quite the right phrase, is it?


Parthenon sculpture
Freize from Parthenon in British Museum

Here are the articles at A Traveler’s Library, starting with the very first book I reviewed at A Traveler’s Library.

Loot, a review of a book about collecting antiquities of other countries.

The new Acropolis Museum in Athens, and quotes from an article by Christopher Hitchens.

Lord Byron speaks about the theft from the Acropolis.

A video about the New Acropolis Museum in this post about Greek Week at A Traveler’s Library.

You can get an idea of the strongly felt feelings on the issue from the comments on YouTube about this video (48 minutes). If the whole thing is too long for you, don’t miss actor Steven Fry, starting at just after 12 minutes in.