Death in Provence
by Serena Kent
Published in the UK by Orion
USA edition published by HarperCollins Hardback.
Also available as e-books
British author Deborah Lawrenson and her husband Rob Rees, who divide their time between the county of Kent in England, and the French Département, Provence, have collaborated under the non de plume Serena Kent on this cosy light-hearted mystery, the first in a series that promises to delight readers, particularly those that are familiar with life in a typical French village.
A cross between Agatha Christie and Peter Mayle, featuring the intrepid Penelope Kite, a newly divorced ex-pat looking for a new start, the story follows Penelope’s adventures as she moves into a dilapidated farmhouse in St Merlot, a stunning village overlooking the Luberon valley.
Before retiring Penelope worked in forensics at the Home Office in London, so it seems natural that she has a knack for stumbling across dead bodies, the first of which turns up in her neglected swimming pool.
The characters and scenarios are sometimes a little too close for comfort for me, living as I do in south-west France most of the year, in particular the descriptions of ‘braying ex-pats”, dangerous roads, thieves and local nutters, either make me laugh out loud or cringe with uneasy familiarity. For those who are going through some difficulties adapting to French life and might be thinking of: selling up, giving up, suicide, alcoholism or becoming a recluse, Death in Provence will help you find humour in your predicament and ease the stress of being a foreigner in a strange land.
Well-written, the story is a real page-turner and although what many may describe as an “easy read” I know from experience that this genre is not easy to write. It is fast-paced and provides exactly the right amount of description without becoming bogged down in details. I love the way the authors include some French phrases, and then cleverly explain the meaning of each, without detracting from the flow of the story. This kind of tight writing takes stamina and a flexible relationship with a red editing pen. I really admire the succinct and clever style. It takes courage to whittle down prose so that every word counts and does its job perfectly.
The characters in Death in Provence are larger-than-life and feel so recognisable, and though they stop short of being clichés, it’s not difficult to picture the characters clearly. The meddling estate agent with her perfectly coiffed hair and long painted fingernails, the over-confident and permanently hungry best friend from England, the handsome Mayor and his expensive car, the hostile Chief of Police, and the villager no one is sorry to see dead – all the ingredients that conjure life in a French village are there and more. If you visit serena.kent on Instagram you will get a better idea of the inspiration behind the book. I particularly love the gurning accordionist.
When I read a few excerpts of the novel out loud to my husband we roared with laughter. It seems there is always someone in a French village that everyone hates. Quite often thieves, drug dealers, hippies, arrogant ex-pats who thrive on correcting your French, snooty retirees from Paris, drunks, or some other kind of criminal or n’er-do-well. The problems they create spread far and wide in the community. It makes you wonder if they have their own definition of the French national motto: Liberté, égalité, fraternity. Equality? What is yours is also theirs, surely? And doesn’t liberty mean walking onto your land and helping themselves to anything they fancy? The fraternity part of the motto makes up for the self-serving interpretation by some. A great example of this is the policeman who gave his life in exchange for the release of a hostage in the recent terrorist attack in Carcassonne. In our experience, community and brotherhood really are important here, but land ownership and long-held resentments often outweigh lip service to a motto that has its origins in the French Revolution.
Set against the backdrop of Provence, Deborah and Rob have captured the history, atmosphere and beauty of the area perfectly. A must-read, accompanied by a glass of Provencal rosé, baguette and French cheese.
Read more about Death in Provence and Deborah’s other novels here:
(C) Maree Giles