Desert Isle Keeper
Death in Provence
Serena Kent’s cozy mystery Death in Provence is a twisty and well-written little bit of fiction that combines tourism porn with a funny heroine and a genuinely surprising mystery.
Penelope Kite is in over her head – and the body floating in her newly-purchased swimming pool is just one example of that. All she’d wanted was to find a delicious space of her own in France, to escape her ill-mannered grown children and their families and their bitterness about being deprived of her services as a convenient babysitter – and to begin her life as a single retiree. She bought the lovely, large, mysterious house in St. Merlot in the hope of creating a large, lovely garden to enjoy and painting her afternoons away. She might even take up playing the ‘cello again. But, alas, on the day she moves in she’s confronted by a drunken man claiming to own the land she was sold – and then he becomes that body floating in her unmanicured pool, holding on to an ace of spades playing card. She’s plunged headfirst into a mystery – and attraction to the town’s enigmatic, handsome mayor, Laurent Milias.
Penelope soon finds out that her drunken fanatic – real name Manuel Avore – had a background that was much more complicated than she thought, and that he isn’t the only one who doesn’t want an upstart Brit hanging around; her new home has a long list of owners who’ve dumped the house throughout the years. When she finds the skeletal remains of another body – also holding on to an ace of spades card – hidden among the ivy in a ruined chapel on her property, the line between Avore and this newly found body seems clear. With the help of her seemingly kind and helpful new neighbors and a few old friends from London, the suspect list grows, and Penelope finds herself sleuthing for a solution to the danger that’s enveloped her ever since she moved to France. Could the real culprit be Milias? Or is it someone much closer to home?
Death in Provence is a perfectly decent cozy mystery that explores life and love as it happens down in the south of France through Penelope’s giddy, excitable eyes. Her general knowledge of the mystery genre provides some wonderful little asides – at one point she calls what she’s been mired in a ‘Cadafel mystery’ and I agreed.
Kent ramps the suspense level up slowly, very slowly – you’ll go from being plunged into a sense of perfect ease as you’re given a French travelogue to worrying for Penelope as the danger grows ever so much closer. The pace is even, the mild scares delightful, and otherwise it’s a nicely cozy experience. And you absolutely won’t be able to guess who ended up doing the killing here, though the eventual revelation of the criminal is completely believable. Penelope’s friendship with her good friend Frankie and friendly rivalry with her nosy neighbour Clemence are delightfully done.
Penelope is a fine heroine; very smart, very ambitious, very relatable. You want to buy her a glass of wine after everything she ends up going through in this book, and watching her develop a whole fresh life for herself within St. Merlot between death threats, break-ins and kidnappings is pretty satisfying.
Kent’s depictions of Southern France are beautifully handled, and you definitely get a feeling through Penelope’s British eyes of what life is like in this beautiful, sun-drenched, open hearted yet secretive part of the world.
My only real complaint is that sometimes the pace is too cozy, and the book takes about fifty pages to really wind up its mystery. But that’s a small quibble; Death in Provence is funny, thrilling and compelling – a true gem of a mystery.