Penelope Kite’s new life at an old farmhouse in Provence was supposed to be chilled rosé, pain au chocolat , blue skies and warm sun… certainly not a dead body floating in her swimming pool.
And having worked as personal assistant to an eminent Home Office forensic pathologist, Penelope knows for sure that the local drunk’s death was no accident.
Writing under their nom de plume, husband and wife team Deborah Lawrenson and Robert Rees draw on their own experiences of living on the slopes of the Luberon hills in Provence for the first entertaining book in a clever, cosy new crime series.
Set against a stunning backdrop of ancient churches, crumbling fortresses, orchards, vineyards and quaint streets, Death in Provence has all the perfect ingredients for a reading escape… quirky characters, an irresistible sense of fun, an intriguing mystery, and more twists and turns than a Provençal mountain track.
It’s love at first sight when Penelope Kite from Surrey sees Le Chant d’Eau – The Song of Water – the ramshackle stone farmhouse tucked high in the hills above the Luberon valley, complete with a garden, swimming pool, and sweeping mountain vistas.
For years, 50-year-old Penelope was at the beck and call of her unfaithful ex-husband and her two ungrateful stepchildren. Since taking early retirement from her job helping a high-ranking Home Office forensic pathologist, she has been an unpaid babysitter and chauffeur for her grandchildren.
But now she is determined to start living for herself and although her dream house needs major renovations, Penelope buys the property on an impulse and moves lock, stock and barrel to St Merlot.
However, finding a man who appears to be her neighbour – the alcoholic and apparently troublesome Manuel Avore – floating face down in her swimming pool on her second day in Provence certainly wasn’t included in her daydreams of an adventurous life.
Convinced that the victim suffered more than a drunken accident, Penelope plunges headlong into local intrigue and long-held resentments simmering beneath the deceptively sunny village.
Having worked closely with forensics, Penelope knows a thing or two about murder investigations but to find answers, she must carefully navigate between her elegant, supercilious (and enviously chic) estate agent Clémence Valencourt, the disdainful chief of police, and the devilishly handsome mayor Laurent Millais.
It’s just as well that her old friend Frankie is just a flight away… and that Penelope is not quite as naïve as her new neighbours in St Merlot believe.
Serena Kent blends Agatha Christie with Peter Mayle in an atmospheric, well-plotted story rich in action, drama and dogged detective work, and simply oozing Gallic charm.
Penelope Kite’s new life and crime adventures in this enchanting corner of Provence are a delight for all crime fans, and will have Francophiles heading for the book shop… and maybe looking to book their next holiday in the delectable – but sadly fictional – village of St Merlot!
(Orion, paperback, £8.99)