Death at the Chateau Bremont
Source: Unrequested review copy from the publisher.
Book Description, my take:
Filmmaker and nobleman Etienne de Bremont falls to his death from a high window of the family château near the idyllic town of Aix-en-Provence, France. Antoine Verlaque, the charming chief magistrate of Aix who'll date practically any good-looking female, decides to join in the investigation since several of Etienne's relatives suspect murder. When he discovers that his ex-girlfriend, law professor Marine Bonnet, had been a close friend of the Bremonts, he uses that as an excuse to spend some time with her (though she's got a boyfriend).
When not at cigar clubs, dining at restaurants, or visiting the local winery to stock up, they investigate Etienne's death, which is soon followed by the murder of another family member. There are plenty of people with a motive, but they all have alibis. The question is: is someone lying or are they overlooking someone?
Death at the Chateau Bremont is technically a mystery, but it read like a travelogue about Aix, France with a mystery going on in the background. There was no urgency to the mystery, so I felt very little suspense. The characters were varied, complex, and flawed. The story was mainly about how Judge Verlaque (who's not the courtroom type of judge) and his ex-girlfriend are still attracted to each other despite how Verlaque is constantly critical of her. While realistic, I was rooting for them to not get back together.
The story was full of details about Aix, France--both the attractions (sight-seeing areas, famous artwork, etc.), and the daily life. There were a lot of details about cigars, fine food, and wine. If you're a fan of those, then you'll probably enjoy this book.
Unfortunately, I don't care about those three things. The high level of uninteresting-to-me detail slowed the pacing down to a crawl. With so much detail, it was hard to tell what would play a critical role later, so I stopped trying to solve the mystery. While eventually we did get clues that pointed to the whodunit, that part didn't really kick in until near the end. My mom (who also read the story) said she thought the book had so many daily-life details because there was so little to the actual mystery.
There were some words in French, and some of it was obvious from context or explained. There were no graphic sex scenes. There was some explicit and some "he cussed" style bad language. Overall, I didn't find this mystery very interesting, but I suspect mystery-lovers who are cigar-wine-and-fine-food fans would enjoy it.
If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.
Excerpt from Chapter One
April 17, 5:30 P.M.
Verlaque stood in front of the caretaker's house. It was a medieval cottage; its thick walls made of golden, rough-hewed stone that glowed in the late afternoon light. The windows were small, to keep out the summer heat, and their wooden shutters were painted a faded gray-blue. Behind Verlaque loomed the mountain. He remembered what Paul Cezanne had said of the montagne Sainte-Victoire--that he could move his easel half a meter and see a totally different mountain. Verlaque tried it now, shifting his heavy body slightly to the right. It worked. The spiky top of one of the mountain's many limestone knobs--its south flank resembled a dinosaur's back--came into view. A shadow suddenly floated cross the peak, and its color changed from dusty rose to gray.
He turned back around and looked at the chateau, not really a chateau but a bastide--a country home built by Aix-en-Provence's wealthy seventeenth-century citizens, who every July would leave their downtown mansions and make their way, servants in tow, to the cooler countryside. It was cold up here--although less than ten kilometers from Aix, Saint-Antonin was five hundred meters above sea level--and Verlaque realized that he had left his jacket in the car.