Death at the Chateau Bremont (A Provençal Mystery)

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9780143119524: Death at the Chateau Bremont (A Provençal Mystery)

The first installment in a sumptuous new mystery series set in Provence—featuring chief magistrate Antoine Verlaque, who must team up with his old flame Marine Bonnet to solve a mysterious pair of murders

The latest book in the Verlaque & Bonnet Mystery series, The Curse of La Fontaine, is available now from Penguin Books!

When local nobleman Étienne de Bremont falls to his death from the family château, it sets the historic town of Aix-en-Provence abuzz with rumors. Antoine Verlaque, the charming chief magistrate of Aix, suspects foul play, and when he discovers that Bremont had been a close friend of Marine Bonnet, his on-again off-again girlfriend, Verlaque must turn to her for help.

The once idyllic town suddenly seems filled with people who scould have benefited from Bremont's death—including his playboy brother François, who's heavily in debt and mixed up with some unsavory characters. But just as Verlaque and Bonnet are narrowing down their list of suspects, another death occurs. And this time, there can be no doubt—it's murder.

A lively mystery steeped in the enticing atmosphere of the south of France and seasoned with romance as rich as the French cuisine that inspires it, this first installment in the acclaimed Verlaque & Bonnet Provençal Mystery series is as addictive and captivating as Provence itself.

“Longworth’s voice is like a rich vintage of sparkling Dorothy Sayers and grounded Donna Leon. . . . Bon appétit!” —Booklist 

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

M. L. Longworth has lived in Aix-en-Provence since 1997. She has written about the region for the Washington Post, the Times (London), the Independent(London), and Bon Appétit. She is the author of a bilingual collection of essays,Une Américaine en Provence. She divides her time between Aix and Paris, where she teaches writing at NYU’s Paris campus.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

 

Saint-Antonin, France

APRIL 17, 12:05 A.M.

The attic light was burnt out. He’d talk to Jean-Claude tomorrow. Étienne sensed that the caretaker had never really liked him, or perhaps his coolness was out of respect for their difference in class; Jean-Claude was polite but never looked his employer in the eye. They had easily avoided each other while Étienne’s parents were still alive, but as Étienne was now the only Bremont living in Aix, the château’s enormous upkeep required that owner and caretaker have more frequent contact. Jean-Claude was a huge man but clumsy. His size had never caused Étienne much worry, but there was something in the way Jean-Claude looked at him sometimes that made him uneasy. Étienne de Bremont had recently found himself fascinated by the caretaker’s enormous hands, which would lie stiffly at his sides as he received his employer’s blunt instructions; after a few seconds his fat fingers would slowly, and then quickly, begin to twitch, as if they were waiting for messages from the brain that would call them into action. At any rate, the fingers seemed to be thinking ahead of the slow, still hands.

Luckily Étienne had brought a flashlight with him, out of habit. There was always a burnt-out lightbulb somewhere in the crumbling château—a home that no one lived in, more trouble than it was worth. He shone the light around the dusty room, one of the only rooms of the twenty-odd that brought him some good memories. His first ten-speed bike was propped up in a corner: it had taken him downhill into Aix-en-Provence in forty-five minutes, the return trip took almost double that. He was fit then, and still was, considering in five years he would be forty.

Next to the bike, a rosary hung on the post of a nineteenth-century iron bed, as it always had, and he thought of her laughing face and green eyes. He missed her, but it wouldn’t do to call. Their lives were too different, their friends too different. Especially their friends.

There was a full moon that night, and Étienne walked over to the window. It was covered by a wooden shutter a meter wide and two meters tall. He swung it open, careful to latch it against the stone wall with his left hand as he held on tightly to the inner wall with his right. The window was open to the elements: years ago the hay had been brought in through this opening for the winter. They had never bothered to put glass in the window. Each Bremont family member learned, as soon as they were tall enough to be able to reach the wrought-iron latch, how to open the window without falling out. The moonlight now filled up the room and would give him enough illumination to read what he had come for. The Louis Vuitton suitcase was on the floor near his right foot, and he picked it up and set it on the wooden dresser that was filled with moth-eaten blankets. The lock on the suitcase had been opened, probably by his brother, François. He quickly opened the suitcase and grabbed the first papers that lay on top, flipping hurriedly through the documents. He didn’t understand why he suddenly felt so rushed—Jean-Claude was gone, an hour and a half away, until tomorrow—but he was anxious all the same and couldn’t stop his hands from shaking. The lawyers’ and notaries’ documents were handwritten, in the graceful script he and his brother were taught to use in the first grade, with fountain pens his father had bought at Michel on the cours Mirabeau. The papers were out of order, and mixed in with the legal documents were odd bits of paper that characterized his noble family’s disregard for money, for filing, and for organization in general. Receipts had been kept in flour tins; hundred-franc bills were dropped or hidden under the library’s faded Persian carpet; the electricity and telephone companies had to call regularly because of late payments, but they never dared to cut off the château’s power.

He began separating the papers, dividing twenty-year-old bank statements and shopping lists from important legal documents. He laughed as he picked up a yellowed receipt from Aix’s best pâtisserie, still in operation, with a fourth-generation chef doing the baking. The receipt was for two brioches, which could have been for him and François, or Marine, except that it dated from the 1950s, years before any of them had been born. He held the receipt in his hands, calming down a bit and allowing himself to think again of Marine and their friendly preadolescent arguments over the merits of brioches versus croissants, or the chocolate powder Banania versus Quik. She could always outargue him.

Étienne de Bremont’s smile froze when he heard the château’s front door open. Instinct told him to stand closer to the wall, partly hiding his thin frame in the shadows. He took off his reading glasses and rested them inside his V-neck sweater. Footsteps quickly ran up the first flight of stairs, and then down the hall and up the second flight, down the next hall and up the last set of stairs, these narrower and wooden rather than stone. Holding his breath, Étienne reasoned that the footsteps probably belonged to Jean-Claude, who must have gotten it into his head that he couldn’t possibly spend a night away from the château. His stupid plants would miss him too much. When the attic door opened, Étienne pointed his flashlight at the figure in the doorway; he sighed and said, “What are you doing here?”

The shutter rattled intermittently against the stone wall as Étienne spoke to his uninvited visitor; a strong wind had begun to blow, carrying their voices out the open window, over the pine trees, and up the hill toward the field of lavender.

As the wind grew louder so did their voices, now tinged with anger. Étienne, oddly enjoying the insults, imagined that he could smell lavender. He was getting bored with this exchange. For a split second, he turned his face toward the open window, in order to inhale the night breeze, and as he turned back around, he heard a rushing sound on the attic’s wooden floor and felt hands on his chest. The mistral blew around his body as he fell. He looked up at the attic window and saw the faint light from his flashlight, and he heard the wind, not whistling, but groaning. Even in the few seconds before his death, all Étienne de Bremont could think of were those two brioches and how he had always preferred brioches to croissants.

Chapter One

Saint-Antonin, France

APRIL 17, 5:30 P.M.

Verlaque stood in front of the caretaker’s house. It was a medieval cottage; its thick walls made of a golden, rough-hewed stone that glowed in the late afternoon light. The windows were small, to keep out the summer heat, and their wooden shutters were painted a faded gray-blue. Behind Verlaque loomed the mountain. He remembered what Paul Cézanne had said of the montagne Sainte-Victoire—that he could move his easel half a meter and see a totally different mountain. Verlaque tried it now, shifting his heavy body slightly to the right. It worked. The spiky top of one of the mountain’s many limestone knobs—its south flank resembled a dinosaur’s back—came into view. A shadow suddenly floated across the peak, and its color changed from dusty rose to gray.

He turned back around and looked at the château, not really a château but a bastide—a country home built by Aix-en-Provence’s wealthy seventeenth-century citizens, who every July would leave their downtown mansions and make their way, servants in tow, to the cooler countryside. It was cold up here—although less than ten kilometers from Aix, Saint-Antonin was five hundred meters above sea level—and Verlaque realized that he had left his jacket in the car.

The bastide, like the cottage, was built of golden stone, but this stone had been smoothly cut. Giant yellow-and-green-glazed earthenware pots, now chipped and cracked, lined the pebbled walk that led to the front door. He noticed that despite the poor shape of the pots, each one contained a healthy oleander, not yet in bloom. Another pebbled walk, lined on either side with rows of lavender, cut across a manicured lawn and led down to a centuries-old ornamental pool. Verlaque walked down the path, aware of his newly acquired kilos and his stomach pushing against his Italian leather belt—living alone didn’t mean that he now ate less, as he imagined other bachelors did after a breakup. He sighed and promised himself that he would start running tomorrow, trying to think where his trainers might be. “Trainers,” he said aloud in English, and smiled. His English grandmother had called them “trainers,” and his French grandmother wouldn’t let him leave the house with them on. “Seulement pour le tennis,” she would say.

The pool’s water was green and murky and covered with leaves that had fallen from the plane trees that towered above it. At the far end was a fountain made from the bright orange and yellow marble that came from the mountain. It was in the shape of a lion’s head whose mouth spewed water into the pool. When he first came to Provence, Verlaque didn’t like the mont Sainte-Victoire marble—he thought it too bright, almost kitsch—but now he loved it. Marine’s bathroom sink was made of the same marble. He reached down and put his hand under the running water and thought of some lines from a Philip Larkin poem, his preferred grandmother’s preferred poet: “I put my mouth / Close to running water: / Flow north, flow south, / It will not matter, / It is not love you will find.” He had found love with Marine, but not contentment, and so he let the love go. His past was too difficult to explain to Marine, and the more she tried to get Verlaque to talk about it, the more he withdrew. It was easier to be on his own, in his loft, with his books and paintings and cigars. They hadn’t spoken for over six months now.

“Monsieur le Juge!” cried a voice from the cottage. The caretaker was standing in the doorframe, his height and breadth filling it completely. “The coffee is ready!” Verlaque walked toward the cottage, at the same time slipping his hand into his pocket and turning on a tape recorder.

He tried not to shiver as he stood in the chilly kitchen. The caretaker, Jean-Claude Auvieux, began to serve coffee for the two of them. Judge Verlaque glanced around the frugally furnished and spotless room, taking time to admire the perfectly preserved flagstone floor. A stove dominated the room—an old burgundy red La Cornue of the sort amateur chefs like Verlaque dreamed about. He would like to have one, with two ovens, at his home in Aix, but then he’d have to redesign his entire flat. He rubbed his big hands together and resisted the temptation to blow on them.

Auvieux turned away from the stove and spoke to Verlaque, as if sensing the judge’s discomfort. “I’m sorry that it is so cold in here. I turned the heat off before I went away this weekend. It’s warm enough during the day, but at night we still need to turn on the heat a bit, non? It will warm up soon.” Auvieux was older than Verlaque, perhaps in his late forties, but his weathered face made him look even older. He was a huge man: tall and wide shouldered, with full lips and big brown eyes. He wore the usual dress for a Provençal in his line of work: blue overalls and a quilted green hunting vest.

“You’ve had a rough Sunday,” said Verlaque, pulling out a wooden chair and sitting down without invitation. “What happened exactly?”

Auvieux looked down at the floor, and then back at Verlaque, whose dark eyes were staring at him. “Well . . . I found the body and called the police straightaway, and then—”

“Were you alone?” Verlaque interrupted. The caretaker froze, “Yes, I was,” he answered. He kicked at some imaginary dust on the floor.

Verlaque sighed and said, “I realize that it must have been a terrible shock when you found Count de Bremont’s body. I don’t know if you were close to the count, but I know that you grew up here, with him and his family. Can you please tell me precisely what you did when you got back from the Var? Be as detailed as possible.”

“I got back to Saint-Antonin around noon today,” answered Auvieux, after a short pause. “Alone. I left my sister’s house in the Var, near Cotignac, around ten thirty.”

“I’ll need your sister’s name and address, for our records,” Verlaque interrupted.

“Fine.” Auvieux swallowed a bit, then breathed in and continued, “I parked my car beside the cottage, to the right of the château. The car is still there. I brought my suitcase inside and then began to prepare a lunch for myself.”

“What exactly?” asked Verlaque.

“My lunch?” Auvieux stared at the judge for a few seconds, trying to understand the line of questioning, and then shrugged. He had long ago given up trying to understand people. Plants were so much easier. Verlaque, in fact, had already noticed a bowl full of strawberries and some thin green asparagus sitting on the counter, waiting for that night’s dinner. When Auvieux opened the fridge to get the milk, Verlaque had quickly taken an inventory: eggs, a half-eaten goat’s cheese, a salami wrapped in plastic, butter, mineral water, and white wine. Just about the same things that were in Verlaque’s fridge at home. Minus the Pol Roger champagne. The caretaker finally answered, “Um, I fried a steak, an entrecôte, and I had a salad, a green salad. Plus two glasses of red wine. I buy the wine in bulk from the cooperative in Puyloubier. It’s not bad, you know.”

Verlaque smiled a warm, genuine smile. He knew that cooperative’s wine, and the caretaker was right—for a wine that cost less than three euros a liter, it really wasn’t bad. “What time did you finish eating?” Verlaque continued.

“Around two o’clock. After lunch I changed into my work clothes, and I took my walk—I like to walk after lunch, even a fifteen-minute walk is beneficial to the health. My sister saw a reportage on it. Fifteen minutes is all you need.”

“Yes, that’s what they say,” Verlaque answered, starting to grow impatient again.

“And so I walked along there,” continued Auvieux, gesturing with his hand toward the château, which could be seen from his kitchen window, “through the olive grove. I took a few minutes to check the trees—I’d cut them back in February. Count de Bremont, that is, Mr. Étienne’s grandfather, used to tell me that the branches should be pruned enough so that one still had a clear view of montagne Sainte-Victoire through the trees.”

At this point the caretaker stopped and looked at the judge, as if waiting for an answer.

“I’ve heard that too,” Verlaque found himself saying. It took him a few seconds to realize that it was Marine who had told him, while clipping the olive tree on her terrace one sunny morning. There wasn’t a view of the mountain from her downtown apartment, but in the early twentieth century there had been glorious views, before the tall apartment buildings were built on the outskirts of Aix, and so the expression had stuck. Verlaque remembered seeing Cézanne’s many studies of the mountain, done from his studio located on a hill north of Aix. Today those views were hidden behind cube-shaped concrete apartment blocks. It seemed fitting to Verlaque that not only could Cézanne’s mountain not be seen from the painter’s stud...

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2011. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The first installment in a sumptuous new mystery series set in Provence--featuring chief magistrate Antoine Verlaque, who must team up with his old flame Marine Bonnet to solve a mysterious pair of murders The latest book in the Verlaque Bonnet Mystery series, The Curse of La Fontaine, is available now from Penguin Books! When local nobleman Etienne de Bremont falls to his death from the family chateau, it sets the historic town of Aix-en-Provence abuzz with rumors. Antoine Verlaque, the charming chief magistrate of Aix, suspects foul play, and when he discovers that Bremont had been a close friend of Marine Bonnet, his on-again off-again girlfriend, Verlaque must turn to her for help. The once idyllic town suddenly seems filled with people who scould have benefited from Bremont s death--including his playboy brother Francois, who s heavily in debt and mixed up with some unsavory characters. But just as Verlaque and Bonnet are narrowing down their list of suspects, another death occurs. And this time, there can be no doubt--it s murder. A lively mystery steeped in the enticing atmosphere of the south of France and seasoned with romance as rich as the French cuisine that inspires it, this first installment in the acclaimed Verlaque Bonnet Provencal Mystery series is as addictive and captivating as Provence itself. Longworth s voice is like a rich vintage of sparkling Dorothy Sayers and grounded Donna Leon. . . . Bon appetit! --Booklist. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780143119524

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2011. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. The first installment in a sumptuous new mystery series set in Provence--featuring chief magistrate Antoine Verlaque, who must team up with his old flame Marine Bonnet to solve a mysterious pair of murders The latest book in the Verlaque Bonnet Mystery series, The Curse of La Fontaine, is available now from Penguin Books! When local nobleman Etienne de Bremont falls to his death from the family chateau, it sets the historic town of Aix-en-Provence abuzz with rumors. Antoine Verlaque, the charming chief magistrate of Aix, suspects foul play, and when he discovers that Bremont had been a close friend of Marine Bonnet, his on-again off-again girlfriend, Verlaque must turn to her for help. The once idyllic town suddenly seems filled with people who scould have benefited from Bremont s death--including his playboy brother Francois, who s heavily in debt and mixed up with some unsavory characters. But just as Verlaque and Bonnet are narrowing down their list of suspects, another death occurs. And this time, there can be no doubt--it s murder. A lively mystery steeped in the enticing atmosphere of the south of France and seasoned with romance as rich as the French cuisine that inspires it, this first installment in the acclaimed Verlaque Bonnet Provencal Mystery series is as addictive and captivating as Provence itself. Longworth s voice is like a rich vintage of sparkling Dorothy Sayers and grounded Donna Leon. . . . Bon appetit! --Booklist. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780143119524

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2011. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. The first installment in a sumptuous new mystery series set in Provence--featuring chief magistrate Antoine Verlaque, who must team up with his old flame Marine Bonnet to solve a mysterious pair of murders The latest book in the Verlaque Bonnet Mystery series, The Curse of La Fontaine, is available now from Penguin Books! When local nobleman Etienne de Bremont falls to his death from the family chateau, it sets the historic town of Aix-en-Provence abuzz with rumors. Antoine Verlaque, the charming chief magistrate of Aix, suspects foul play, and when he discovers that Bremont had been a close friend of Marine Bonnet, his on-again off-again girlfriend, Verlaque must turn to her for help. The once idyllic town suddenly seems filled with people who scould have benefited from Bremont s death--including his playboy brother Francois, who s heavily in debt and mixed up with some unsavory characters. But just as Verlaque and Bonnet are narrowing down their list of suspects, another death occurs. And this time, there can be no doubt--it s murder. A lively mystery steeped in the enticing atmosphere of the south of France and seasoned with romance as rich as the French cuisine that inspires it, this first installment in the acclaimed Verlaque Bonnet Provencal Mystery series is as addictive and captivating as Provence itself. Longworth s voice is like a rich vintage of sparkling Dorothy Sayers and grounded Donna Leon. . . . Bon appetit! --Booklist. Bookseller Inventory # BZV9780143119524

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