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A Reader of Fictions: Guest Review: Death in the Vines

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Monday, June 3, 2013

Guest Review: Death in the Vines

Death in the Vines
Verlaque and Bonnet, Book 3

Author: M.L. Longworth
Pages: 304
Publisher: Penguin Books
Source: Publisher for review

Description from Goodreads:
Fans of Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri, mystery lovers, Francophiles, and foodies will adore this who-done-it with a beautiful European setting. In her riveting follow-up to Death at the Chateau Bremont and Murder in the Rue Dumas, M. L. Longworth evokes the sights and sounds of late-summer Provence, where the mistral blows and death comes in the most unexpected places. Olivier Bonnard, the owner of Domaine Beauclaire winery, is devastated when he discovers the theft of a priceless cache of rare vintages. Soon after, Monsieur Gilles d’Arras reports that his wife, Pauline, has vanished from their lavish apartment. As Judge Antoine Verlaque and Commissioner Paulik tackle the case (with a little help from Marine Bonnet), they receive an urgent call: Bonnard has just found Madame d’Arras—dead in his vineyard.

First Sentence: "Olivier Bonnard sat on the bottom stone step of his cellar, his hands gathered around his head as if he were attempting to soothe a migraine.” "

Hello again, Christina’s readers and friends. Once again Christina had too many books with a deadline to handle them all herself, so she asked me whether I would do a second guest spot since the first contribution was well-received, and readers said that they would like to hear from me again. Then she contacted the publisher to see whether that was acceptable to them, and it was. As it turns out, when the book arrived, Christina knew that she would have had a hard time picking out a more perfect book to give me as a gift. So, not surprisingly, the publisher should be happy with my review. One thing you should know about me is that I am a wine fancier as well as a reader and someone who loves puzzles and games, travel, crafts, genealogy, and good food. Can you guess how many of my favorites are covered by a book called Death in the Vines?

This is the third book in a series called “A Verlaque & Bonnet Provencal Mystery.” While I had read the second book, but not the first, I do not believe there is any reason to suppose one must have read the earlier books to enjoy this one. While some of the characters do carry over (they are investigating the crimes), and you get glimpses of their personal lives, this book can stand on its own. And I am going to include a bit of a primer on some of these characters, just in case.

First, though, as an American, used to our crime and law shows, I looked up a little about the French judicial system since that gave me some pause in both books. Rather than the prosecution and defense system that we inherited from the British, the French have the juges d’instruction, or investigating magistrate. This is Antoine Verlaque in this series. Marine Bonnet, his serious girlfriend, is a law professor at a local university in Aix, which is what the locals call Aix-en-Provence most of the time. Her parents were covered more in the second book, but do appear here. Her father is a doctor and her mother a retired professor of religion; they were far from ideal parents but are still somewhat in her life since they all live in Aix. Antoine Verlaque grew up rich in Paris, Normandy, and other parts of northern France, and he visits Paris once in each book. His family will be mentioned occasionally in his thoughts, as well as a former girlfriend named Monique, and through both of these books we know she hurt him badly; we learn about that late in this book.

To continue on: the investigating magistrate, who in this book has a staff of investigative lawyers, as well as the police commissioner and all the policemen also reporting to him, is holding much of the “trial” of evidence in secret, during the course of the investigation; confronting witnesses, recreating the crimes at the scene, developing profiles of the criminals, and ordering DNA tests as well as working with the coroner. While in real life this might take several years, this book, like our TV crime shows, compresses the time frame considerably. The investigating magistrate then prepares a report that contains both the defense and prosecution information. Trials in France and other countries that use this system are then usually short. This French system is felt to be superior in cases of corruption within political and corporate spheres, but less so for street crimes. In real life the French examining magistrate may be handling 100 cases at a time; in this book there are five mysteries, four of them official ‘crimes’ being pursued.

So for the background on supporting characters in this book, most of whom were also in the second book, the next main one after Verlaque and Bonnet is the commissioner of police. His name is Bruno Paulik. He is a native of the countryside in Provence, a rugby player, and a member of a large extended family. His wife, Helene, manages the estate of Olivier Bonnard and is his chief winemaker; she is also an up-and-coming winemaker with a growing reputation, but no hope of ever being able to buy her own vineyards, unless perhaps she were to move to Chile or some even ‘younger’ wine area. They have a ten-year-old daughter, Lea, who is a gifted singer and taking special classes. In real life the police officers generally do not like the examining magistrate and his lawyers. One side-effect of the French system is that the police are often less involved in the actual investigations, according to my research. However, in this instance, the lawyer Roussel is often held in lower regard than Alain Flamant, who does much of the computer work on the case, and two newer officers in the department: Jules Schoelcher from Alsace and Roger Caromb from Marseilles. However, it is clear at the beginning of the book that the lower-level police dislike Antoine Verlaque.

This book is set as much in the wineries and other areas outside Aix and around France as within the town (where most of the second book Murder in the Rue Dumas took place). Death in the Vines opens at the winery where the theft has just been discovered and returns there several times while investigating both this and other crimes. There is quite a bit of wine information included – from the winery owner and staff, the judge who is a gourmand, in some of the interrogations, and also in the travel descriptions. We have taken Christina to wineries around America and in Germany and France, so she knew how much all of this would thrill me. The author conveys much of the glory and heartbreak involved with this fascinating offshoot of Roman culture spread throughout Europe (the Catholics built churches with vineyards and produced wine for themselves and the Roman legions as they marched across Europe and up to Britain). That is an example of the sort of things you may learn in this book, although it was not in this volume.) But there are references to ancient Rome that you will uncover when you read this book.

This is a good who-done-it mystery; did the thief connect to the death on the property; is there a serial killer? Along the way the reader learns more about Alzheimers, historic Citroen automobiles, and prejudices the French have for others from some of the different regions of their own country, too. It amazes me how many things were assembled into this book, in just under 300 pages, and it all fits together smoothly and interestingly.

Rating: 5/5

Favorite Quotes: "It was a rugged countryside, more rugged than Aix: sparsely inhabited, its hills smaller and older, and the plants that covered them even drier and more meager than in Provence. He rolled his car windows down and let the smells waft in. It was a landscape for cloistered nuns and monks, medieval hermits, and fanatical winemakers. It couldn’t be any more different from his green Normandy, and he loved it."

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Blogger Amy said...

I hadn't heard of this series at all. It sounds like something I might like though. It seems like the setting in this one is really great and I love a good mystery. Fab review.

June 3, 2013 at 12:06 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I read the second book in the series and it was very fun like a classic Agatha Christie mystery!

June 3, 2013 at 12:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't heard of this series before either, but I really like that cover (I have thing for illustrated covers :P). I'm not sure if this book is up my alley, but then again, I do love good whodunit mysteries, and Alzheimer's is always an interesting topic to read about, even if it is a horrible disease!

June 3, 2013 at 3:53 PM  
Blogger Kara_Malinczak said...

Agatha Christie, you say? I may have to look into this series.

June 4, 2013 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

That sounds very promising!! I will have to look into these too!!

June 4, 2013 at 1:37 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

The cover is totally awesome and hilarious. I thought the second book was well done, if not perfectly up my alley.

June 4, 2013 at 3:47 PM  

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