Strange doings at a country home in Provence.
Examining magistrate Antoine Verlaque (The Curse of La Fontaine, 2017, etc.) and his bride, Marine Bonnet, have a new neighbor. Goncourt prizewinner Valère Barbier has moved into La Bastide Blanche, a formidable home in Puyloubier just outside Aix—and coincidentally, adjacent to the vineyard owned by Hélène, wife of Bruno Paulik, Verlaque’s commissaire. The Pauliks soon befriend the writer, who’s entranced by their talented young daughter, Léa. They invite him to a lovely meal of grilled lamb chops and sausages, accompanied of course by some of Hélène’s fine wine, and Barbier reciprocates to the best of his ability given that his electricity isn’t yet turned on and his kitchen is at the mercy of his flighty housekeeper, Sandrine Matton. Soon he’s smoking at Antoine’s cigar club and chatting cozily with Marine. But Valère’s welcome by his Aixoise neighbors is spoiled by the arrival of his Parisian friends. Fellow writer and childhood frenemy Michèle Baudouin shows up, shouting at her Japanese publisher over her cellphone. Michèle’s lazy lout of a son arrives, then promptly disappears. Even more unnerving, voices call out to Valère in his sleep. Unseen hands shake his shoulder. The locals, long convinced that the bastide is haunted, are unsurprised. But Antoine, suspecting that Barbier’s troubles may be connected to the death of his wife years ago in a boating accident, resolves to reopen the long-cold case. Longworth’s latest, told in part as a memoir and in part as a straightforward mystery, gains nothing by its fragmentation.
As usual, the strength of Longworth's tale is its depiction of the good life in Provence, with the detection providing an excuse for some splendid meals.