Death and Croissants by Ian Moore
Richard runs a B&B in the Val de Follet in the Loire Valley, France. Not that his wife Clare is sharing his dream of a peaceful life any more. She has left him, so he can prepare breakfasts and go into the local town on market days, watch his old films and enjoy the quiet life. He has the formidable cleaner Madam Tablier to contend with, but mostly his life with his three hens is fuss free. That is, until there is a missing guest, a bloody handprint and the enigmatic Valerie and her judgemental dog Passepartout. Within a few days Richard is chasing around in a fast car, wearing unusual clothing and sneaking around at night. This very funny book makes the most of the cultural and linguistic differences between the British and the French, the normally quiet Richard and an adventure with murder and mayhem. Every character is made to be memorable in this account of a mystery in a small town where crime is normally prevented. The first one in a series of adventures for the hapless Richard who struggles to even answer his phone to his daughter without shocking her, and where old films are his area of expertise. I enjoyed this funny and well observed book with the elegant and determined Valerie and her constant companion Passepartout as she demonstrates her surprising talents. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this funny book.
From the first line “Is there anything in this world quite as joyless as muesli?”, Richard establishes his prejudices in the matter of breakfast, which after all is the only meal he provides in his modest establishment. He has very few guests to please, including an Italian honeymoon couple. When Valerie appears in the dining room with her little dog he is unpleasantly surprised, but finds it difficult to object. The revelation of a bloody handprint in an otherwise empty guest room seems to enliven his elegant guest, and provokes her into an investigation. Madame Tablier is incensed at the stain, but Valerie seems keen to charge into the local town to discover more. Typically, Richard is reminded of an old film or two where the heroine drives too fast in a memorable car in order to establish her independence, but when even the local beverage leaves him breathless he knows that this investigation, if that’s what it is, will push a lot of his boundaries. That is before he is pressured into adopting clothes and behaviour that challenges everything, as well as discovering what his remarkable neighbours are really like in the privacy of their own home.
This is not the first novel I have read which could be called a comedy crime novel, where a fairly timid man is strongly influenced by a strong minded woman into investigating a mystery. This book represents the author’s own knowledge and experience of the expats lifestyle in France very well, along with the bemusement of the locals to the antics of the British. Small town life in France seems to depend, as everywhere else, on the common knowledge of others in the community and some outstanding characters. I really enjoyed the fast pace of this novel, as well as Richard’s obsession with old films which has him adopting the mannerisms of the stars of the 1930s and 40s. I recommend it as a cheerful read with some really funny set pieces and Valerie as a enterprising lady with unusual skills.