The first entry in a clever, lighthearted mystery series set in modern Provence—a delightful blend of Agatha Christie and Peter Mayle—featuring the irrepressible Penelope Kite, a young-at-heart divorcee with a knack for stumbling across dead bodies.
It’s love at first sight when Penelope Kite sees Le Chant d’Eau—The Song of Water—the stone farmhouse tucked high in the hills above the Luberon valley, complete with a garden, swimming pool, and sweeping mountain vistas. For years, Penelope put her unfaithful ex-husband and her ungrateful stepchildren first. Since taking early retirement from her job in forensics at the Home Office in England, she’s been an unpaid babysitter and chauffeur for her grandchildren. Now, she’s going to start living for herself. Though her dream house needs major renovations, Penelope impulsively buys the property and moves to St. Merlot.
But Penelope’s daydreams of an adventurous life in Provence didn’t include finding a corpse floating face down in her swimming pool. The discovery of the dead man plunges her headlong into a Provençal stew of intrigue and lingering resentments simmering beneath the deceptively sunny village. Having worked in the forensics office, Penelope knows a thing or two about murder investigations. To find answers, she must carefully navigate between her seemingly ubiquitous, supercilious (and enviously chic) estate agent, the disdainful chief of police, and the devilishly handsome mayor—even as she finds herself tempted by all the delicacies the region has to offer. Thank goodness her old friend Frankie is just a flight away . . . and that Penelope is not quite as naïve as her new neighbours in St. Merlot believe.
Set against the exquisite backdrop of Provence, steeped in history, atmosphere, and secrets, Death in Provence introduces an irresistible heroine and a delightful new mystery series.
This makes a change in my “English woman moves to romantic European country” novels, where I usually go for ones based in Italy, so it took me a while to get used to this being set in France.
So: Penelope, recently divorced and recently retired, falls in love with a run down house, buys it on the spur of the moment (partly because she’s fed up with her step-children’s bratty children), and moves in. Things dont go according to plan, with some of the locals not wanting someone foreign to the area coming in, some of the older gents dont like certain women disrupting their lives (especially women who have experience in forensics finding dead bodies in their swimming pools and challenging investigations); there are still long held grudges about what happened during and immediately after WW2.
However, Penelope becomes sort-of-friends with her chic estate agent (possibility of them becoming investigating partners in future books) and settling in is helped by the arrival of her friend Frankie, who not only knows a thing or two about house renovations, but also has a hitherto unknown ability to speak fluent French (and an ability to down a remarkable amount of wine). Investigations drag on, Penelope begins to settle in and make herself known to the locals, and then there are more murders and threats, culminating in Penelope being in danger herself from a most unexpected source.
In short, an interesting but light hearted crime novel and I would certainly look for further books in this series!