Tag Archives: mystery book

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 Flickr.com

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 Flickr.com

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 Flickr.com 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.

Solving Crime Puzzles from Tucson to San Francisco

Destinations: Tucson and San Francisco Bay area

Book: Fracture (2011) by Susan Cummins Miller

Want this book? Find out at the end of this review how you can get an autographed copy.

Susan Cummins Miller’s last book, Fracture,  kept me guessing–and reading–until geologist Frankie McFarlaine and her boyfriend unravel the complex mystery that involves Philo’s family. That would be the boyfriend, oddly-named Philo Dain, a Special Forces kind of guy who runs a top-notch private detective agency in Tucson.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park, Tucson

Frankie and Philo are just getting reacquainted after his recent return from Afghanistan when his uncle shows up wanting Philo’s help locating some valuable coins. Philo doesn’t like his Uncle, but because of inheritance, he partly owns the coins, so he agrees.  The uncles’ trophy wife turns up dead and Uncle Derek, a man used to buying whatever he wants–including respect– is the prime suspect.

The plot is too complex to summarize without giving something away. Tension builds and along with the physical threats to our hero and heroine, plenty of puzzle solving is involved. It even gets a bit Ludlum-esque when a rare coin dealer and an academic get involved trying to “decode” a family chess set that turns out to be museum-quality rare.

Meanwhile, Miller paints a realistic picture of her native Tucson, and similarly evocative scenes in a house on a cliff above the foggy San Francisco coast and the family ranch which holds the final clues to the secrets.

San Francisco fog
Photo from Wiki Commons

This review is another follow-up to the 2014 Tucson Festival of Books. See my earlier review of Townie by Andre Debus III.  And where I saw Susan Cummins Miller, here.

Miller’s Frankie McFarlane mystery series started with the the publication in 2002 of Death Assemblage. Since then she has published a total of five Frankie McFarlane mysteries and has finished a sixth–each with a geological reference in the title. Her newest book, out next year, is Chasm, set in the Grand Canyon.

The earlier books emphasized geology–Frankie seemed to stumble on bodies every time she takes students out in the field for research–and the skill set that being a scientist contributes to Frankie the myster-solver. The importance of Frankie’s geology background is dialed down in Fracture, as Frankie shares focus with the adventure-hero Philo. However, she still is independent, resourceful and smart as the dickens. And we do learn a few things about the composition of the earth around San Francisco–and fractures and earthquakes that take place in the ground as well as those that split families.

The characters are vivid  in Fracture. Miller provides us an almost tactile experience of the contrast between sweltering summer Tucson, and cool, damp San Francisco.  This mystery is a keeper.

WIN THIS BOOK

Tucson Festival of Books
Susan Cummins Miller talks to reader at 2014 TFOB

At the Book Festival, Susan signed a copy of Fracture for me to give to one of my readers.

If you would like to have an exciting (virtual) trip to the Bay area by winning a signed, hardback copy of Fracture, leave a comment below mentioning the word ‘fracture.’  A winner will be chosen at random  on May 20. The book is valued at $30.

Winners must have a United States postal address and must be over 18. There is no limit on the number of entries. See other fine print here.

Notes: The author gave me a copy of the book for review and to use as a giveaway.  My opinions are still my own.  Links here to Amazon allow you to shop easily for this book and others and at the same time support A Traveler’s Library. Thanks.

Bonus Time-Bending Summer Reads

How could I have neglected to mention these two very different and very interesting summer reads?  I have not reviewed them because they do not fit neatly into my requirement of taking place in a location that inspires travel. But they DO fit the summer reading needs of particular readers–lovers of super heroes or steampunk– take note. Continue reading Bonus Time-Bending Summer Reads