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The Frenchman (Bennett Sisters Mysteries) (Volume 5) Paperback – August 8, 2017
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Three years ago (already!), I presented to you Merle and her sisters in The Girl in the Empty Dress. So I’m thrilled to invite you back in Dordogne today and in the Sancerre (good wine!) region, especially as The Frenchman is a really neat mix with a historical novel nestled in a mystery!
I have to say I enjoyed it doubly, as I’m currently translating the first novel in the series into French!
This is quite a turning point in Merle’s life:
her son is preparing to go to college;
she feels the need for a prolonged break from her lawyer’s job, BUT her boss offers her to take over the business, with a nice salary;
she misses Pascal, the French boyfriend she met in France
she feels the need to start writing a novel
So she decides to go spend time in Dordogne, where she inherited a house when her husband passed away.
She sees France as a place of healing.
However, not all is rosy there: first she discovers her house has been vandalized. Then she realizes her friend Pascal is doing dangerous undercover work to better identify wine frauds.
I really enjoyed this episode in Merle’s life, as she learns to heal in a less than ideal place, in the midst of danger and uncertainty. Will she accept the challenges? How will she orient her life?
There were very accurate evocations of life in small French villages, with colorful neighbors. Cops are not described too positively, reflecting well the general opinion of French people towards them, at least before the latest waves of terrorism – I think the view is slightly changing now.
And as a wonderful extra dimension, chapters alternate between Merle’s life and her pages of her historical novel as she writes it along. There are lots of connections between her life and her novel set in 1793 France, a castle and goats, for instance.
This novel did a good job pulling me into the life of Merle Bennett as she left her job as a lawyer and traveled with her teenage son to France where she owns a house inherited from her late husband. She also has a romance with a Frenchman, Pascal, apparently from a previous novel.
I enjoyed the writing and the story as Merle tried to create a home in the Dordogne region of France, dealing with vandalism and attempting to connect with standoffish neighbors. When Merle's son goes back to the U.S. to begin college and Pascal disappears while investigating an undercover wine sting, she is left alone to figure out how to live in a new culture.
Throughout the first half, there wasn't really a mystery, which is fine by me, but it did lack in tension to make me wonder what would happen or what was at stake.
But the tension picked up in the second half and had me turning pages (metaphorically since I read it on Kindle).
I'll have to admit that the book has a more down-to-earth view of France and living life in France as an American transplant than many fictional books set there. It put a little damper on my dreams, but even in the midst of crisis, there was good food and wine.
This book was a pleasant escape with some mystery thrown in to the second half. Definitely worth a read.