Murder on the Ile Sordou (A Provençal Mystery)

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9780143125549: Murder on the Ile Sordou (A Provençal Mystery)

In the decadent fourth book of the series, Verlaque and Bonnet find themselves hunting a murderer on a remote island in the glittering Mediterranean Sea

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


On-again couple Antoine Verlaque and Marine Bonnet are hoping for a relaxing holiday at the Locanda Sordou, but someone has other plans.

Hoteliers Maxime and Catherine Le Bon have spent their life savings restoring the hotel, which lies in an archipelago of sun-soaked islands off the coast of Marseille. To celebrate the grand opening, a group of privileged guests joins Verlaque and Bonnet: Marine’s free-spirited best friend; an aging film star, his much-younger wife, and her disgruntled son; a pair of affable American tourists; and a querelous Parisian couple. But the murder of one of the guests casts a shadow over everyone’s vacation, and things go from bad to worse when a violent storm cuts off all communication with the mainland. Will the killer strike again?

Like Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri, M. L. Longworth enchants mystery lovers with a taste for good food and gorgeous landscapes in this installment of her acclaimed mystery series.

“A charming read with a well-crafted mystery and characters as rich and full-bodied as a Bordeaux.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"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.:

Author’s Note

Chapter One

From here he could see La Canebière rolling straight down into the old port, splitting the downtown into two equal parts, as though someone had drawn a line in the sand with a stick. It made sense that the main street would dump into water, for it had once been La Lacydon, a river. Eric Monnier tried to balance his hip against the handrails of the boat in order to relight what was left of his cigar. He noticed that the farther out from Marseille they got, the more the mountains behind the city seemed bigger, as if they were pushing—thrusting—the city into the sea. Funny, he thought, when you’re in the city you don’t notice the white chalky limestone hills. You only hear the beeping car horns, the cry of seagulls, and see the dust, and smell the sea, and dirt. He knew that Marseille made no attempt to fancy itself up for tourists, and each time he returned to the place where he was born it took him a few days to learn to love it again.

Lacydon had been his first and only book of poetry, written in the early 1960s when he was twenty-two and published on a shoestring by a friend in Arles. It was an ode to Marseille, and its history, its bright light, and its fast-talking inhabitants. He had sold a dozen or so copies at weekend flea markets and then had given out the rest to friends and family. He still had a cardboard box under his bed with the proofs—typed by the older sister of a friend—and five remaining copies of the slim, elegant tome.

With the nonsuccess of his poetry Monnier took a job at a high school in Aix-en-Provence teaching French literature, just until, he initially hoped, his poetry took off. An elderly great-aunt on his father’s side died and gave the apartment in Aix’s Quartier Mazarin to her great-nephew. He still lived there, surrounded by wealth: his neighbors being a count and countess (below) and a Parisian architect (above). And here he was, one month newly retired from that same job and same high school, never having put his poems into book form again. His new poems were now written out, in longhand, in black bound books that he bought at Michel’s on the Cours Mirabeau. He knew that the staff at Michel’s called him “Le Poète” as soon as he left the shop, and he didn’t mind.

Monnier’s eyes watered as he looked at Marseille. He had always loved the port, its golden stone medieval forts protecting the harbor, and the fortress-like church, Saint-Victor, lovelier in its simplicity than the elaborate nineteenth-century Notre Dame de la Garde. He turned to his right and saw the bunkers, built by Germans during World War II, on the hill below the Pharo Palace. As kids they had played around the bunkers, until getting chased away by a Pharo guard. As the boat went farther out on the sea more of Marseille came into view: the private swimming club just beyond the bunkers, where now membership took years and multiple recommendations, and beyond that the three-star Passédat restaurant.

He turned his back to Marseille now; not because he was displeased with the city, but to break the wind. On the third try his cigar relit—barely visible hints of red shone at the tips—and he puffed madly to get it going again. With his back to the city he saw that they were close to Les Îles du Frioul, a group of islands that included the abandoned prison on the Île d’If, immortalized by Alexandre Dumas in The Count of Monte Cristo. Two of the larger islands of the Frioul archipelago were joined by a causeway, with a large natural port that faced Marseille. They too had limestone cliffs and craggy hills, dotted with bright-green shrubs, all of it shimmering in the late July sun against the blue-green sea. When he was young an uncle (his mother, daughter of Italian immigrants, had been one of twelve children; his father, an only child) had had a cabin on Frioul, and Eric would spend weeks on end swimming and fishing with his cousins, and when alone, writing.

Farther out to sea the waves got bigger and the boat hit one and fell down with a thud. The poet heard a cry and what sounded like “Whoopee!” from a middle-aged couple who had boarded the boat just ahead of him. It was the wife who had yelped. She had her back to the city, arms spread out firmly gripping the boat’s railing, as her husband comically jutted around trying to stabilize himself so that he could take a picture. He wore white tennis shoes that seemed too big for his feet, and one of those hats that had a bill to keep out the sun but a hole on top. They never made sense to Monnier. He had no idea what the caps were called, but on the basis of that—and the wife’s “Whoopee!”—he guessed the couple to be American. The woman saw Monnier looking at them and she smiled and waved, yelling, “Rough sea!” Monnier waved back with his panama hat in his hand, having understood that she had said something about the waves.

He tried not to stare, but the poet was mesmerized by the American couple’s glee, and their shared enthusiasm. He had had love affairs but never married; the woman whom he would have married had died more than fifty years ago, and he hadn’t enjoyed dating after that. He used his poetry as an excuse to be a recluse; people believed him, as the making of poetry was too abstract for his few friends to understand.

A week on the island was a treat to himself for forty years of teaching ungrateful seventeen-year-olds (with some exceptions) the beauty of Flaubert. As a retired civil servant he would be earning his full salary—small at 2,000 euros a month—but it was more than enough for someone who lived rent-free, had no children, and never traveled. As he smoked his cigar he saw himself reflected in the boat’s window: he imagined that he looked like any retired teacher who loved to eat and drink (this was something he spent money on); his half-moon-shaped reading glasses permanently hanging around his neck; his paunch; his white Guayabera shirts that a friend bought on visits to Cuba (this one stained, he noticed, with last night’s beef daube); his red bulbous nose; a scruffy white beard; and his flyaway white hair, thinning, but not bald.

The Americans were still giddy at the waves, and he was thankful that the language barrier would be an excuse not to have to socialize with them once they got to the island. Not very social at the best of times, Monnier wanted silence on the island; time to reflect, and to write. And then he heard French.

A new couple had emerged on his side of the boat; they must have been on the starboard side and boarded after him and the Americans. They were younger by five years than the Americans, and younger than him by . . . twenty years perhaps. At least she was. He nodded as they walked by, their arms linked, and they smiled and nodded back. The woman was tall and slender, but not skinny, with a head full of curly auburn hair that flew about in the wind, just as Élodie’s had. She had a long thin nose, high cheekbones, and a thin mouth, and lots of freckles. Her partner was equally striking, but did not have her classic good looks. He was her height, if not a tiny bit shorter, and wide at the shoulders, with a paunch that Monnier could just make out. His nose had been broken . . . an accident? a sporting injury? and his hair was thick and black and streaked with gray. His eyes were much darker than hers, but they were as intelligent. He had a large, wide mouth, and a hearty laugh.

Monnier’s cigar went out again and he turned back to look toward Marseille. The city’s details were now difficult to make out, except for Notre Dame de la Garde sitting atop a hill east of the city, much like Paris’s Sacré Coeur—a beacon—in this church’s case, for sailors. The boat had made its way around the Frioul islands and was now heading out farther to sea, southwest, to an island seven hundred meters wide and two kilometers long that was their destination.

“Is that a Cuban you’re smoking?” a deep voice said beside him. It was Broken Nose, the one with the beautiful freckled companion.

“What else?” Monnier answered. He may be just a humble civil servant, but he would only smoke Cubans. “An Upmann. But it’s out now, and I’m holding on to it still because I don’t want to throw it overboard.”

“I have an Upmann in my pocket,” the man answered, patting what looked to be, to Monnier’s inexperienced eye, an expensive linen jacket. “A Magnum forty-six. But I’m saving it for when we get to the island. My companion thought it silly that I smoke a cigar while on a boat, out at sea. I think she thinks the idea of a cigar and fresh air is incongruous.”

Monnier laughed. “Tell that to the Cubans.” He held out his hand. What the hell, he thought. They speak French and we’ll be together on a small island. “Eric Monnier,” he said.

“Antoine Verlaque,” Broken Nose said, shaking his hand. He looked at Monnier and smiled again. “Here for some R & R?”

“I hope so,” Monnier said. “Just retired from forty years of teaching. And you?”

“Vacation.”

“Have you brought more cigars with you?” Monnier asked. “I’m not sure the hotel will sell them.”

Verlaque nodded and smiled. He was charmed by the teacher’s naivety; hotels such as the one they were heading to always had a humidor. He had brought his own cigars, but knew he would be able to fall back on the hotel’s stock if he fell short. “They’re filling up about half of my suitcase,” Verlaque answered. “She doesn’t know.” At that point they both looked across the boat to Verlaque’s companion, who was taking photographs of the sea.

“She’s beautiful,” Monnier said, surprising himself that he would be so forthright.

“Yes, and she carries it so well. Some women are ruined by their beauty, but not Marine.”

Monnier thought that this man Antoine was used to getting compliments on the beauty of his girlfriend, or wife; at least, he hadn’t been at all surprised by a stranger’s comment. “Marine,” Monnier repeated. “Appropriate name for someone who takes pictures of waves.”

Verlaque nodded. “It is, but I think she’s taking photos of waves because she’s actually frightened of them.”

Monnier did a half smile. “I knew someone like your Marine once. Wonderful girl . . .”

The boat hit a wave, and both men grabbed on to the edge. “I’ve never been beyond Frioul before,” Verlaque said. “It’s magnificent to be out on the sea like this, with Marseille off in the distance.”

“We’ll be going out eight kilometers,” Monnier answered. “Sordou was the first island that Mediterranean mariners came to; hence the importance of its lighthouse. The other islands in the Riou archipelago are uninhabited . . .”

“Yes, I know . . .”

“Protected by the coast guard and used only by scientists and divers and seagulls . . .”

Verlaque waited for Monnier to take a pause, as he was obviously in teacher mode, but didn’t get a chance to speak. “Neolithic peoples came to Sordou looking for shellfish,” Monnier went on.

“Mmm,” Verlaque said. “We’ll no doubt get some good fish on the island. I’ve heard great things about this young chef . . .”

“Of course there are plenty of rabbits, and some rare birds like the protected Puffin cendré . . .”

Of course, with its bright-yellow beak and ashy-colored feathers . . .”

“But the puffins hide out in the island’s rocky crevices, so it’s unlikely that we’ll see one.”

The boat slowed down and Marseille was but a golden haze in the distance.

“Well, here we are!” Monnier said, shielding the sun from his eyes with his hat.

Now that the boat had pulled up to the island’s dock, the passengers could feel the July heat. The American woman reminded her husband, Bill, as they excitedly ran inside the boat to get their suitcases, to be careful of his back.

“Ah . . . Sordou,” Monnier said, looking at the island.

“Have you been here before?” Verlaque asked. “As I understand it, Sordou has been abandoned for decades.”

“Oh, I’ve been here before, mon ami, I’ve been here before.”

Chapter Two

“Watch your step,” the captain said to the passengers as they got off his boat—Le Sunrise—and hopped on to Sordou’s main pier. The captain was anxious to get back to Marseille, as the sea was getting rough, and by the time he got back his friends would be well into their second pastis at the Bar de la Marine.

A handsome, rugged-looking man in his thirties was there to greet the guests and help them with their bags. Hugo Sammut was glad to have the job; he worked during the winters in the Alps as a ski instructor but had needed to earn some cash this summer season. He was hired on as gardener and boatman—he had his blue boat badge in sailing and could take the guests out in the hotel’s small motorboat if they desired. It was no surprise to him that he would also get asked to do odd jobs such as greeting the guests at the pier; at their first staff meeting in early May he had been shocked that the staff consisted of only six people, plus the hotel’s owner and his wife.

Tenez, madame,” Sammut said as he offered his forearm to a middle-aged woman getting off the boat.

“Oh, don’t mind if I do!” she answered in English, giggling and taking his tanned muscled arm.

“Shirley!” her husband called out from behind. “You’ll want to watch out with these Frenchies!”

She patted Sammut’s arm as thanks once she had both feet on solid ground and reached for her husband’s suitcase as he almost lost his balance getting off the boat. “Bad back,” she loudly said to Sammut, pointing to her husband and then motioning to her lower back with her hand. “And Parkinson’s too,” she added. Eric Monnier cringed; the woman’s openness about her husband’s various ailments embarrassed him.

“In that case, madame, please allow me to take your suitcases up to the hotel for you,” Sammut said in perfect but accented English. He was extremely popular in the mountains with the Anglo-Saxon—women, in particular—skiers.

“Oh my, thank you . . .”

“Hugo,” he answered.

“Hugo, dear. I’m Shirley Hobbs, and this is my husband, Bill.”

“Glad to meet you, son,” Bill Hobbs said, shaking Sammut’s hand. Monnier looked on in amazement at the American couple’s friendliness and noted that the man’s hand trembled as he shook hands. Monnier had never been to “the States” as some of his ex-colleagues had annoyingly referred to it.

“Hugo, are you sure you can handle both of those bags?” Bill Hobbs asked. “I’m afraid I can’t be of much help.”

“Yes, sir. It won’t be a problem,” Sammut answered, and to his relief saw Serge Canzano, the hotel’s bartender, walking quickly down toward the dock.

“I’ll help you with your bags, sir,” Canzano said to Monnier as Sammut gave his colleague a where have you been? look. Canzano didn’t have the chance to tell Sammut that he had been busy making a second mojito for one of the guests when the boat had pulled in. He had finished making the drink and called Marie-Thérèse—who had been busy in the laundry room—to tend bar until he returned.

“And then I’ll be back for your bags,” Sammut said to Antoine Verlaque and Marine Bonnet.

“Oh, no no,” they protested in unison. “That won’t be necessary,” Verlaque said. “We can manage.”

“I’ll take your bags,” a throaty female voice sounded. The group turned around to see a petite, short-haired woman in her l...

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2016. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. In the decadent fourth book of the series, Verlaque and Bonnet find themselves hunting a murderer on a remote island in the glittering Mediterranean Sea The latest book in the Verlaque Bonnet Mystery series, The Curse of La Fontaine, is available now from Penguin Books! On-again couple Antoine Verlaque and Marine Bonnet are hoping for a relaxing holiday at the Locanda Sordou, but someone has other plans. Hoteliers Maxime and Catherine Le Bon have spent their life savings restoring the hotel, which lies in an archipelago of sun-soaked islands off the coast of Marseille. To celebrate the grand opening, a group of privileged guests joins Verlaque and Bonnet: Marine s free-spirited best friend; an aging film star, his much-younger wife, and her disgruntled son; a pair of affable American tourists; and a querelous Parisian couple. But the murder of one of the guests casts a shadow over everyone s vacation, and things go from bad to worse when a violent storm cuts off all communication with the mainland. Will the killer strike again? Like Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri, M. L. Longworth enchants mystery lovers with a taste for good food and gorgeous landscapes in this installment of her acclaimed mystery series. A charming read with a well-crafted mystery and characters as rich and full-bodied as a Bordeaux. --Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Bookseller Inventory # LIB9780143125549

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2016. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 4th edition. Language: English . Brand New Book. In the decadent fourth book of the series, Verlaque and Bonnet find themselves hunting a murderer on a remote island in the glittering Mediterranean Sea The latest book in the Verlaque Bonnet Mystery series, The Curse of La Fontaine, is available now from Penguin Books! On-again couple Antoine Verlaque and Marine Bonnet are hoping for a relaxing holiday at the Locanda Sordou, but someone has other plans. Hoteliers Maxime and Catherine Le Bon have spent their life savings restoring the hotel, which lies in an archipelago of sun-soaked islands off the coast of Marseille. To celebrate the grand opening, a group of privileged guests joins Verlaque and Bonnet: Marine s free-spirited best friend; an aging film star, his much-younger wife, and her disgruntled son; a pair of affable American tourists; and a querelous Parisian couple. But the murder of one of the guests casts a shadow over everyone s vacation, and things go from bad to worse when a violent storm cuts off all communication with the mainland. Will the killer strike again? Like Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri, M. L. Longworth enchants mystery lovers with a taste for good food and gorgeous landscapes in this installment of her acclaimed mystery series. A charming read with a well-crafted mystery and characters as rich and full-bodied as a Bordeaux. --Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Bookseller Inventory # LIB9780143125549

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2016. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 4th edition. 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. In the decadent fourth book of the series, Verlaque and Bonnet find themselves hunting a murderer on a remote island in the glittering Mediterranean Sea The latest book in the Verlaque Bonnet Mystery series, The Curse of La Fontaine, is available now from Penguin Books! On-again couple Antoine Verlaque and Marine Bonnet are hoping for a relaxing holiday at the Locanda Sordou, but someone has other plans. Hoteliers Maxime and Catherine Le Bon have spent their life savings restoring the hotel, which lies in an archipelago of sun-soaked islands off the coast of Marseille. To celebrate the grand opening, a group of privileged guests joins Verlaque and Bonnet: Marine s free-spirited best friend; an aging film star, his much-younger wife, and her disgruntled son; a pair of affable American tourists; and a querelous Parisian couple. But the murder of one of the guests casts a shadow over everyone s vacation, and things go from bad to worse when a violent storm cuts off all communication with the mainland. Will the killer strike again? Like Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri, M. L. Longworth enchants mystery lovers with a taste for good food and gorgeous landscapes in this installment of her acclaimed mystery series. A charming read with a well-crafted mystery and characters as rich and full-bodied as a Bordeaux. --Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Bookseller Inventory # BTE9780143125549

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