Friday, February 28, 2020

"Death in Avignon"

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 novel, Death in Avignon, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I want to see you struggle to even crawl out of here!”

“It takes a great deal to defeat us where food is concerned!” Valentine waggled an index finger.

Penelope laughed nervously. The crispy roast potatoes and caramelised parsnips could go into the oven again now for a final blast. The sponge and a second tin of golden syrup were consigned to the steamer at the back of the hob, which rattled and shook alarmingly, every so often disgorging a large puff of steam, like Robert Stephenson’s prototype Rocket engine.

As the clock’s hour hand reached one, there was another knock at the kitchen door. Penelope opened it to a smiling M. Louchard and his fiancée Mariette. How things had changed in the past three months. Her farmer neighbour, a former Foreign Legionnaire, had been a lovesick recluse when she arrived. But now the loneliness and shyness had disappeared from his demeanour. Penelope noted with approval the large bottle of his homemade plum brandy in his hand. It had magical properties, of that she was convinced.

She showed her guests through into the sitting room. They were all keen to see the changes she had already made and offered helpful advice. “It is your blank canvas, madame,” said M. Louchard, “waiting for you to make your mark on it.”

He was obviously in one of his philosophical moods. Now that Penelope had come to know him better, she appreciated Pierre Louchard’s idiosyncracies and the way he found simple pleasures and solace in nature. Whilst tending to his field of lavender and his herd of brébis, a goat-like breed of sheep, he would speculate on the world’s ineffable questions, and then expound his revelations to all and sundry. It had earned him the nickname “The Thinker,” after Rodin, in a not entirely respectful fashion. For unfortunately his delivery of the Great Truths while out in the fields never quite attained the heights of his internal musings.
Penelope Kite, middle class Englishwoman of a certain age, has already taken a big risk in moving to a tumbledown farmhouse in Provence alone after her divorce, and she is taking another on page 69. She is about to serve a traditional British Sunday lunch to her new friends and neighbours in the village of St Merlot in Provence - and these Provençal folk are a tough crowd to please when it comes to good food.

Actually, this incident is based on several true stories. Whenever we have tried to introduce French friends to English dishes, it has always caused some consternation! The French have long regarded British cooking with suspicion and disdain, and here they are about to get up close and personal with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Will Penelope win them round or invite ridicule?
The group’s main focus was on the dish of Yorkshire puddings. Like a team of botanists discovering an entirely new species of plant, they leaned forward on their chairs and peered over the rim of the bowl, incomprehension writ large on their faces.
Death in Avignon has a good, strong mystery at its heart, but the series is also an optimistic look at life for a single woman of fifty in a strange land. This scene is about establishing Penelope’s growing confidence in St Merlot and re-introducing some village characters, but food does play a crucial part in the story.

Controversial expat painter Roland Doncaster chokes on an almond-stuffed olive at an exhibition and dies. A tragic accident, or poisoning? As Penelope is drawn into the mystery, her knowledge of forensic science proves invaluable as it takes her deeper into the history of paint pigments and the murky world or art dealing.

As in the first in the series, Death in Provence, there are luminous landscapes, authentic descriptions of the Luberon valley’s hilltop villages, the return of Penelope’s larger-than-life best friend Frankie, further annoyance to Police Chief Reyssens, and lashings of self-deprecating British humour along the way.
Visit Serena Kent's website.

The Page 69 Test: Death in Provence.

--Marshal Zeringue