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.
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.
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.
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.