The Mystery of the Lost Cezanne by M L Longworth

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The Mystery of the Lost Cezanne by M L Longworth

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: JY Saville
Reviewed by JY Saville
Summary: This is an easy to read, gentle mystery set in the South of France. The area, as well as its food and drink is vividly described. Though there is a murder at the heart of the story, as the title suggests it's really about the missing painting, and will particularly appeal to mystery-lovers with an interest in art history.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 320 Date: October 2015
Publisher: Penguin Books (USA)
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0143128076

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Antoine Verlaque, investigating judge at Aix-en-Provence, is asked to visit a retired postman who has uncovered an old canvas in his apartment, which just happens to be the former home of famous nineteenth-century artist Paul Cezanne. When he gets there the old man is dead, there's no canvas to be seen, and an American art history professor is inexplicably in the living room. It's now up to Antoine and his team of policemen to find the murderer and the painting, and with the help of his girlfriend Marine Bonnet, work out who the woman in the painting is and if it could really be a hitherto unknown Cezanne.

This is the fifth book in the Verlaque and Bonnet series but the first I've read. I enjoy a wide range of crime fiction, among them those gentler tales known as cosies, but even for me this seemed a bit too gentle at times. The level of tension created in the early part of the book doesn't live up to the intrigue of the synopsis on the back cover and I'd almost forgotten I was reading a mystery by the time the body turned up, on page 47, though I did know a lot about Antoine Verlaque's friends and colleagues. It was another thirty pages before Marine Bonnet had more than a walk-on part – this seemed very much like a Verlaque novel rather than Verlaque and Bonnet, for the most part.

Throughout the novel there are chapters set in Aix in 1885 and there is a nice sense of continuity between those chapters and the present day, through the landscape, architecture and local customs. These chapters give us, the reader, clues about the provenance (and subject) of the painting that's been found in the present day, and I particularly enjoyed the historical research in the book, where Marine and her father (who, conveniently, is a self-taught Cezanne expert) do their own strand of detective work.

What M L Longworth is very good at is conjuring the rhythm of life in Aix-en-Provence. Though there are mentions of nightclubs, shabbier streets and Mafia connections, for the most part we see the wealthy, well-fed, chic side of Aix. Antoine belongs to a cigar club and drinks champagne at the drop of a hat. There is a cheesemonger, an independent confectionery business that's been in the same family for over a hundred years, designer clothes shops and well-appointed apartments in noble old buildings. Meals, wine and cigars are lovingly described and lingered over by a selection of characters. Sometimes it's even pertinent to the plot.

I can see certain readers wanting to re-read this novel to pick up clues the second time around, as the investigation itself is quite subtle. Although with hindsight the solution fit with everything we'd learnt, it did give me a jolt of surprise as I'd been thinking along different lines.

M L Longworth is originally from Toronto but has lived in Aix for nearly twenty years and is bilingual. However, as far as I know the Verlaque and Bonnet mysteries are written directly in English rather than translated from French, though The Mystery of the Lost Cezanne did have a sprinkling of French phrases in it (nothing my long-forgotten GCSE couldn't handle) to add that flavour of authenticity. If Mediterranean crime with a strong food-loving theme appeals, the Inspector Montalbano novels from Andrea Camilleri might be worth a try. Be warned, they are not as gentle, set as they are in Sicily with its Mafia families, but they are laced with humour, well-plotted and give a great insight into the culture and customs of the area. The series begins with The Shape of Water.

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Buy The Mystery of the Lost Cezanne by M L Longworth at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Mystery of the Lost Cezanne by M L Longworth at


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