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Friday, 5 February 2016

The Mystery of the Lost Cezanne by M L Longworth

Published by Penquin Books USA,
30 October 2015.
ISBN: 978-0-1431-2807-6

Antoine Verlaque, judge in Aix-en-Provence, is much occupied with the good things in life – wine, food, cigars and fine art, and, of course, his girlfriend, Marine Bonnet, a lecturer at the university. Verlaque is also interested in justice and has a curiosity that leads him to investigate any mysteries that come his way.

When René Rouquet, a retired postman, is murdered it seems as if he is the victim of an ordinary burglary that has turned violent. However, René lived in the apartment once occupied by the great artist Paul Cézanne, and there is evidence that he has discovered, hidden there, a hitherto unknown painting by Cézanne. This painting is not in the artist's usual style: it is of an unknown woman, smiling, and Cézanne's portraits of his usual female sitter, his wife, always show her looking dour and stern.

Verlaque has to juggle with a number of suspects, including some close acquaintances. He also has to deal with Dr Rebecca Schultz, an American art history professor and a stunningly beautiful woman, whom Verlaque had discovered near René's body at the scene of his murder. As if this were not enough, Verlaque has to rebalance his relationship with Marine, who seems to want more of their life together than she has until now. Above all, Verlaque has to discover the whereabouts of the lost Cézanne and attempt to verify its authenticity, not to mention attempting recover it when it goes missing again, this time while it is in his custody.

Marine's father is a lover of Cézanne and knows a great deal about the artist and his work and, while Verlaque deals with present day problems, Marine and her family investigate the historical mystery and attempt to discover the identity of the subject and her relationship with Cézanne. Intermingled with the contemporary investigation are several short historical chapters telling the story of Cézanne's relationship with Manon, a young woman of poor family who works in a local pâtisserie, but who loves nature and understands Cézanne's art.

The Mystery of the Lost Cézanne is the fifth book in the series featuring Verlaque and Bonnet. It is a gently paced book with long descriptions of a luxurious, hedonistic lifestyle but the central mystery is intriguing enough to keep the reader engaged. The past and present are skilfully interwoven, and the chapters about Manon and Cézanne are particularly charming, giving the reader an insight into their relationship that the fictional investigators cannot fully achieve. The changing face of Aix-en-Provence and the places that still survive, including the pâtisserie, provide a delicately described link between the past and present and bring to life a place with a warm, rich character of its own.

The Mystery of the Lost Cézanne is an enjoyable, civilised read, with likeable characters, a glorious setting and some beautiful descriptions of the artist, his work and the unique character of his subject.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

M. L. Longworth has written for The Washington Post, The Times (London), The Independent, and Bon Appétit magazine. She is the author of a mystery series set in Southern France, Verlaque and Bonnet Provençal Mysteries, published by Penguin USA. 'Death at the Château Bremont' was published in June 2011, 'Murder in the rue Dumas' in 2012, 'Death in the Vines,' in 2013 and 'Murder on the Ile Sordou' on Sept 30, 2014. She has lived full-time in France for over seventeen years and divides her time between Aix-en-Provence, where she writes, and Paris, where she teaches writing at New York University's Paris campus.
Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her second book About the Children was published in May 2014.



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