Book Review: Death at the Chateau Bremont
Book Review by Mary-Jane Deeb of M.L. (Mary Lou) Longworth, Death at the Chateau Bremont. Penguin Books, New York, 2011.
Mary Lou Longworth, better known as M.L. Longworth, is a Canadian writer best known for her Provençal mysteries set in Aix-en-Provence, where she moved with her family in 1997. Britbox adapted her books for a TV series entitled “Murder in Provence,” which debuted in March 2022. The mysteries have been translated into several languages, including Russian, German and Polish. Read more about the author in this article: Mary Lou Longworth’s Mysterious Tales in Provence.
Death at the Chateau Bremont is the first book in the series, which to date counts thirteen mysteries set in Aix. As Longworth mentions in her blog “Aix is a law town – it has been since the Middle Ages – which seemed to me a good place to situate a mystery, and I imagined my protagonists involved in the law profession.” In this first mystery, the author sets the stage for the other mysteries by describing her central characters at length. There is first Antoine Verlaque, the examining magistrate who takes a hands-on role in investigations, as is permitted by French Law, and who is known to be outspoken and incorruptible. He is elegant, well-spoken in both French and English (his grandmother was British), loves good food, good wine and good cigars, and drives a Porsche. His colleague and side-kick is the commissioner, Bruno Paulik, a huge man who is described as one of Aix’s best detectives, and whose farming roots in the Luberon have given him a thick accent from the Midi. He loves opera and good wine, and his beautiful wife Helene is the head wine-maker for a prestigious winery in the area. Then there is Verlaque’s love interest Martine Bonnet, a law professor at the University of Aix and, unlike the two men, is a native of Aix, which makes her role critically important in solving the mystery at the Chateau Bremont. Antoine and Martine’s relationship seems to be on ice after a serious affair that ended months before this story begins. “He had found love with Martine, but not contentment, and so he let the love go.” (p. 7) Throughout the book, however, they appear to be getting closer, but hesitating to take matters a step further.
The mystery appears relatively straightforward: two aristocratic brothers, Etienne and François de Bremont, are found murdered on the grounds of their chateau, and so the question is: who benefits from their murder? But of course, like all good mysteries, the answer is not so straightforward. Enter numerous suspects, including the chateau caretakers, unfaithful wives and sisters-in-law, French and Russian mafiosi, polo players, and others who keep the reader guessing. The chateau is full of secrets and the author judiciously slips in clues and red herrings to add excitement to the story.
Why Buy this Book
Longworth is a consummate writer, and her imagery is sharp and vivid. Describing spring arriving in Provence after an unusually cold winter, she writes: “Fields of fluttering red poppies were everywhere, and the vineyards were sprouting up young shoots of bright green leaves.” (p. 114) A sense of place is also present throughout the book, and one feels that the author knows and loves the city, its roads and by-ways, its cafés, its fountains, and small stores, and is confidently able to convey this familiarity to her readers. The neighbourhood of Martine comes alive when the author describes “a street that still had everything one needed for a decent living – two boulangeries, three butcher shops, a pharmacy, two flower shops, a wine store, a cheese shop, a hardware shop, one travel agent … and a handful of cafés.” (p. 37) It makes you want to move to Aix-en-Provence and take up residence on Martine’s street!
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