Wednesday, March 6, 2019

"Death in Provence"

Serena Kent has been a journalist, a banker, a music composer and a sheep-shearer - and is also the nom de plume of Deborah Lawrenson and her husband Robert Rees. They live in Kent in a house full of books, and own a ramshackle old farmhouse on the slopes of the Luberon hills in Provence which is also in desperate need of some more bookshelves.

The authors applied the Page 69 Test to their new book, Death in Provence, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Penelope stirred an emergency teaspoonful of sugar into her tea. No, that didn’t necessarily follow, she tried to tell herself. She didn’t even know for sure whether those were bloodstains on the axe shaft. She was just catastrophizing. This was what happened when a person was overwrought. She had to stop this now. The axe shaft – and the head – would have to be submitted for forensic tests before anything could be ascertained, and they probably had nothing whatsoever to do with the body in the pool. She should know better than to go leaping to conclusions.

With the presence of mind that had often been praised by her former boss, she took several photos of the axe, from different angles, on her phone. Then she went upstairs and found some plastic wrapping from a new set of pillows and carefully placed both parts of the axe inside it. She would share her discovery with the police, though she doubted the Chief [of Police] would be thrilled to receive her bearing a strange (and possibly irrelevant) package at four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. Especially when she wasn’t sure she should have been at her property at all.

She was just deciding where she should store it, or whether she should take it out to the car to take with her, when she heard the spitting of stones outside. A vehicle came down the track. Penelope froze. What if it was the police? Had someone seen her coming and in and reported her?

There was nothing for it but to face the music. She should open the front door with a big smile on her face, as if nothing was amiss. Then again, no, she shouldn’t: that would look calculated. She should sit tight and have a few sips of tea.

No knock on the door came.

After about ten minutes, Penelope went down to the front hall and peeped out of the window. A car had indeed arrived on her property and parked outside. It was a very familiar red Mini Cooper.
Penelope Kite, middle class Englishwoman of a certain age, is definitely showing her sensible side on page 69. She isn’t always quite this measured. For a start, newly divorced and determined to live life to the full, she has moved to the South of France on a whim. She has taken on a tumbledown old farmhouse in Provence alone, developed a reckless rosé habit, and found a dead body in her swimming pool.
The local Chief of Police has already treated her with disdain but he will learn to his cost that he should never have underestimated Penelope: she has a formidable brain and worked until recently for an eminent forensic pathologist in London.

Her new acquaintances in and around the village of St Merlot include Clémence Valencourt the chic Parisian realtor who sold her the house – and can make Penelope feel inadequate just with a look. Clémence seems to turn up everywhere in her little red Mini-Cooper. Why is she still taking such an interest? Could it be that she and the devastatingly attractive Mayor of St Merlot are in cahoots, intent on undermining Penelope right from the start? But why?

As Penelope contends with increasingly unsettling events and the ever-present temptations of French pâtisserie and wine, her larger-than-life best friend Frankie arrives from England and takes the village by storm. There’s a good, strong mystery at the heart of the book, some gorgeous and authentic landscapes, delicious French cuisine and plenty of laughs along the way. Thrillingly, several reviewers have called it “a combination of Agatha Christie and Peter Mayle”. Formidable!
Visit Serena Kent's website.

--Marshal Zeringue