Ekemar (The Complete Callaghan Tetralogy, 2015, etc.) presents a murder mystery set in a vineyard in the French countryside.
Patrice LaFarge is the cantankerous owner of the Clos Saint-Jacques estate and vineyard, a property of considerable commercial value. After a bitter dispute with his brother over inheritance-related issues, Patrice resolves to keep his holdings fully intact and prevent future development by others. However, he worries that his wishes won’t be respected by three of his children, who are all emotionally estranged from him. Henri is the most irresolute of the bunch and in constant need of financial support. Constance, who lives in Paris and works as a music hall artist, also squanders her money and regularly looks to Patrice for assistance. Michel, the eldest child, is a financially savvy businessman, but Patrice frets that he’ll sell his share of the land as soon as a good deal presents itself. Patrice consults with his lawyer and creates a fidei-commissum, a kind of trust in which the bank supervises the property and prevents its sale or development; it also funnels the income to the three siblings as well as Gaspard, a child from one of Patrice’s affairs, who runs the property. Patrice presents this plan to his progeny as a work in progress, and he locks the not-yet-notarized version in his room, using a key that he asked Gaspard to make. When the whole family meets to discuss the plan, they’re predictably enraged, and shortly after Patrice dies in a fire while locked in his own room. Inspector Jean-Claude Rimbaud is called in to investigate what increasingly looks like a homicide. Veteran author Ekemar puts the plot at a slow simmer, trickling out pertinent information while also maintaining suspense. There’s no shortage of motives among the characters; the lives of the siblings are full of personal disarray of one kind or another, making them each prime candidates for committing the crime. That said, these same characters could be more fully developed; Ekemar has a tendency to overexplain their quirks, rather than letting them reveal themselves through action and dialogue. Still, this book remains an intelligently fashioned mystery, giving its readers just enough information to be enthralled, but not so much that they become bored by predictability.
An artfully rendered tale of homicide and family intrigue.