Death at the Chateau Bremont, by M. L. Longworth, is subtitled ‘A Verlaque and Bonnet Mystery’, intimating it is the first of a series. Antoine Verlaque is a magistrate in the southern French town of Aix en Provence and in the French judicial system a magistrate will investigate suspicious deaths in conjunction with the Police.
Although the owner of Chateau Bremont appears to have accidentally fallen to his death from an open hatch in the chateau’s attic the book would have been very short had not Verlaque become suspicious and decided to ask around. There are plenty of characters to speak to, fourteen are introduced in the first chapter alone, and most of them have known each other since childhood and have had, or are having, affairs with each other.
One is Marine Bonnet, a thirty-something professor of law at Aix university, childhood friend of the dead man and ex-lover of Verlaque. For not believable reasons, since he has the entire police department at his disposal, Verlaque asks Bonnet to assist him with the investigations by interviewing suspects, although Bonnet seems to be no less involved with the dead man than some of the suspects.
We are supposed to care whether the couple’s past romance is rekindled, as they work together. Magistrate Verlaque appears to have no cases to hear or other work to do so the investigation continues at a leisurely pace interspersed with many meals and misunderstandings between the couple. Amusingly we hear Verlaque’s account and then Bonnet’s version told to her best friend of what derailed a potential intimate moment.
The book was recommended to me for its French wine and food setting. At times it reads like a travel book, yet although plenty of local detail is shovelled in, Aix never comes to life. Food and wine is described but not evoked. The pages are littered with italicised French words yet the characters go to ‘downtown’ Aix (a small town of 143,000 souls) and refer to miles and metres on the same page. A joke has been edited out of existence: the police commissionaire has just returned from Scotland “They love the French you know” he says. “Yes, because they are not British.” It should be ‘because they are not English’. It’s a dig against the Scot’s old enemies. Scots are, of course, themselves British.
There is a surreal description of police interrogation cells which Verlaque has fitted with Phillipe Starck chairs and glass topped tables.
There is another murder at the Chateau but we only hear of it second hand and the culprit isn’t discovered.
I struggled to finish this boring overwritten book or to care about the characters and I won’t be waiting for the sequels.
Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle.
Death at the Chateau Bremont: A Verlaque and Bonnet Mystery
By: M. L. Longworth
Publisher: Penguin June 28, 2011
Disclosure: Peter May received this book from the publisher free of charge for review purposes