Book: Death in the Vines (NEW June 2013) by M. L. Longworth
Here we are in Provence again–just can’t get enough of the south of France. But instead of contemplating life and language with Kristin Espinasse, or art in a Renoir painting, we’re solving a mystery–or several. And this time it is the town of Aix-en-Provence.
Wouldn’t you think that readers subjected to such a profusion of dead bodies would think twice about booking travel? Yet, these destination-rich mystery novels continue to be very popular–particularly with travelers who read.
M. L. Longworth writes about a crime-solving duo–Judge Verlaque and Commissioner Bonnard. The Judge takes an active role in investigation in France, directing the investigators rather than only presiding over a trial after all the sleuthing is done, as in the U. S. Read more about Canadian ex-pat in Provence Longworth’s life in the bio on her website.
Death in the Vines is the third Verlaque-Bonnard novel set in Aix-en-Provence. I loved the fact that we get a look at every day life in a city that is NOT Paris for a change. I liked the feeling that I was wandering through the town and learning about markets, the social life, the stratification of society and people’s attitudes. Having lived there for so long now, Longworth knows the French culture and customs well enough to give us an accurate picture of the life of Aix-en-Provence. However, this is not my favorite mystery series for several reasons.
Although the writing is solid and the recreation of place excellent, I constantly got lost trying to follow the plot and the characters. It is a tricky business being sure that readers can tell one character from another by the way they speak and their little quirky habits. In that regard, Verlaque and a victim, Mme. d’Arras, were the only one who stood out as easily identifiable. Unfortunately, I found the bevy of policemen, including Commissioner Bonnard getting muddled in my mind. Perhaps part of that is because this is the third in a series and the author is inadvertently writing for faithful readers.
The police procedural plot follows Verlaque and Bonnard through a complex mix of a wine theft, the disappearance of a confused old lady and the murder of young women. Of course they follow false leads, but putting the wine theft, which turns out to be peripheral, at the beginning means the author is giving the readers a false indication of what is important, and even worse, puts the least tension-building crime up front. While I appreciate the somewhat random and plodding progress of real police procedures, I would prefer my police procedural novels to provide more excitement, and sooner rather than later.
Actually, the saving grace for me, is that this book makes a great guide to the countryside around Aix. In addition to details of street names and places in the main town, the plot takes the characters outside of Aix-en-Provence for what will make some great sightseeing for travelers reading the book. For instance the small village of Rognes, shown in this You-Tube video. Although it is not the best video, it does give you a flavor of the town that Longworth describes in the book, through the voice of Mme. d’Arras.
The buildings ….all made of the local golden stone quarried just outside of town; the quarry and its porous yellow stone had given the village its wealth. The main road hadn’t changed either; it still veered eastward at the cave cooperative and then descended gently northward out of the village, until it reached the vine-covered plains outside of town.
On a trip into the countryside, the two detectives stop at the famous Millau bridge over the Tarn River.
Their journey takes them in search of a lover of Citroen automobiles.
So if you’re planning a trip to Provence, or even just dreaming of a trip to Aix-en-Provence and the beautiful surrounding countryside, you might want to take a look at Death in the Vines along with your guidebook.
Note: The book was provided by the publishers for review, but that never affects my opinions. Photos here are credited when possible, and you can click through to learn more. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. Any time you do your shopping by clicking through from this site, you help us feed A Traveler’s Library. Thanks for your support.
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