Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Messengers of Death by Pierre Magnan

First Line: On the gate of the cemetery at Barles, there's a postbox.

It is a Sunday when ex-postman Émile Pencenat decides to stop digging his own grave for the day and notices that a letter has blown out of the bottomless, purely ornamental postbox. His sense of duty forbids him to ignore the letter, so he walks into the village, buys a stamp, and posts it. Within just a few days, the recipient of the letter is found murdered. The police are baffled, and Commissaire Laviolette is persuaded to come out of retirement long enough to solve the case. As Laviolette is soon to learn, this is only the beginning of the deadly correspondence.

Originally published in French in 1986, The Messengers of Death tells the tale of a series of crimes that occur in the 1960s. Pierre Magnan skillfully takes readers back to what seems a quaint and simpler time in the countryside of southeastern France.

Over his long career, Commissaire Laviolette has learned a great deal about the habits of people who live in small villages. He's an observant, intuitive sort of policeman who knows that the postmistress undoubtedly reads the mail that comes in and out, and he also believes that the reason for these crimes lies in the past. When one needs stored memories, where better to go than the local old people's home? His interactions with all the townspeople allows Magnan to show their foibles to perfection.

Another area in which the author excels is in using the setting and the weather to affect the mood and to create tension and suspense. In more than one scene, the killer is moving through the rooms in the victim's home, and Magnan had the hair standing on the back of my neck. (If I'd been reading late at night, I would have jumped a mile if a floorboard had creaked.)

I know that some readers worry about translated books, but I had no problems with it at all. I slid easily into the story and quickly became so intrigued that I had to know how it ended. At times throughout the book, I had to smile. Each woman's appearance and sex appeal are speculated upon in a manner that did not offend me in the slightest but made me wonder if Magnan had been a bit of a ladies' man. This book is not only an enjoyable mystery, it also oozes French charm and wit. Do I recommend Pierre Magnan's books? Bien sûr!

The Messengers of Death by Pierre Magnan
Translated from the French by Patricia Clancy
ISBN: 9780312387570
Minotaur Books © 2009
Paperback, 320 pages

Police Procedural, #6 Commissaire Laviolette mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen 


  1. Tres bien, Cathy. I concur with your appraisal of this book.

    I haven't read this one but so enjoyed another outing by Commissaire Laviolette -- Death in the Truffle Wood.

    A reader gets to know several eccentric French characters and some information about life in remote farming communities, where finding and selling truffles may be the only way a poor farmer can earn a living.

    And the truffle-hunting pig, Rosalind, is charming and also quite a good detective.

    I keep meaning to read this one but somehow haven't gotten to it.

    1. I just looked it up. I read Death in the Truffle Wood over three years ago, but since I've been working on reading some of the books on my TBR shelves, I thought it was more than time to take this one off the shelf and read it. I'm glad I did. Another French author that I need to get back to is Fred Vargas.

      I'm so glad you mentioned Rosalind-- she was one of my favorite characters.

  2. Mine, too. I liked Rosalind.

    Fred Vargas' latest adventure The Ghost Riders of Ordebec is superb. Have you read that one yet? I was sad when I turned the last page, leaving the eccentric characters, pigeon, dog and Normandy.

    1. I'm only on the fourth or fifth book in the series, so I haven't read the latest yet. It's definitely on my radar-- especially after hearing that you liked it so much.

  3. Cathy - Oh, this sounds great. I love novels that give one a good sense of history. And what an interesting premise for a story, too.

  4. Adding to my Goodreads shelf...this looks so good.


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