Penelope Kite's life has been one of taking care of others. When she gets the chance for early retirement from her job in forensics in the Home Office, she takes it. When she sees the stone farmhouse tucked up in the hills high above the Luberon Valley in the south of France, she knows that this is the beginning of the new life she wants for herself. Saying good-bye to her ungrateful stepchildren and spoiled grandchildren, she buys Le Chant d'Eau--the Song of Water-- and moves into her perfect stone farmhouse... or it will be perfect once some renovations are done!
But the morning of her first full day in her new home finds her thrown right in the middle of a Provençal stew of old resentments and new intrigue for she finds a body floating facedown in her swimming pool. Penelope is no stranger to murder investigations, having worked in the forensics office, but she does have to learn to navigate the crowded waters of the handsome village mayor, the chic estate agent who's constantly turning up at the farmhouse, and the chief of police who thinks this particular foreigner is beneath contempt. And her willpower is taking a beating from all the food and wine for which the region is world-renowned! Fortunately for Penelope, her friend Frankie is only a short flight away... and even more, she's not as naïve as her new neighbors think she is.
After reading Martin Walker's delightful Bruno Chief of Police mysteries and now this charming series opener, I might be forgiven for believing that all crime in the south of France seems to tie into World War II. A lot happened then, and old resentments seem never to be forgotten, only handed down from one generation to the next. Yes, the mystery in Death in Provence does hark back to that period of time, and it is a good, strong puzzle to solve, but I found myself liking other things even more-- especially the main character, Penelope Kite.
Penelope is a fiftysomething woman with a good head on her shoulders. Her background working with forensic scientists means she has a good idea of how investigations should be conducted and how evidence should be handled. I had to give her a lot of credit because she always kept the local police apprised of her findings regardless of how shabbily they treated her. Which brings up another point.
A year or so ago, I read the first book in another mystery series set in the south of France, and the major reason why I did not care for it is that the main character spent most of her time whining about how her new neighbors didn't think she was wonderful and accept her into their midst in five seconds or less. For the most part, newcomers in key tourist areas like this are not going to be accepted quickly (if at all). Their habit of investing in properties at inflated prices means that young local families can't afford to buy their own homes. Resentment grows if the newcomer only lives there for a week or two each year, and it festers if other things are (or are not) done. I loved watching how Penelope conducted herself. This is one woman who is really looking forward to her new life, and she's going about it in just the right way.
Death in Provence contains an excellent recipe for a continuing series: a puzzling mystery to solve, a dash of humor, the wonderful cuisine of Provence, a beautiful farmhouse to restore, and the perfect woman to handle it all. I look forward to the next book. Allons-y!
Death in Provence by Serena Kent
Harper © 2019
Hardcover, 368 pages
Cozy Mystery, #1 Penelope Kite mystery
Source: Amazon Vine