M. L. Longworth’s mystery series, set in Provence, continues to delight readers in its third book, Death in the Vines: A Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery. As much as the mystery intrigues—in this case some intertwined crimes involving a local winery, a missing elderly woman, and a rich man’s suspicious construction project—what really makes Longworth’s books enjoyable are the atmosphere and details that she includes of the South of France.
Although the book can stand on its own, it would be more fully enjoyed if the reader is already familiar with author M. L. Longworth’s cultured sleuth, the Chief Magistrate of Aix-en-Provence, Judge Antoine Verlaque and his lovely law professor girlfriend Marine Bonnet, who previously appeared in Death at the Chateau Bremont and Murder in the Rue Dumas. Verlaque and Bonnet have had an up and down relationship over the course of Longworth’s three novels. Their relationship seems to be in its best shape ever in Death in the Vines, as they grow closer that ever before and Verlaque finally starts to deal with past familial and romantic relationships that have held him back before.
Verlaque is tasked with trying to solve a series of rape/murders in the area, which may or may not be linked to the disappearance of a disagreeable, but well-known in Aix, older woman named Madame D’Arras, who may be suffering from Alzheimer’s. Also gone missing are some rare (and random) wine bottles from the local winery Domaine Beauclaire. Verlaque is ably assisted on these cases by his Commissioner of Police, Bruno Paulik, whose wife Helene works at the winery, as Martine is distracted by personal health concerns.
Verlaque and his crew are able to solve and sort out the various crimes, but what makes Death in the Vines truly enjoyable is the joy that the characters take in between hunting for clues—appreciation of fine wines, a long, leisurely meal at a local restaurant, even the day-to-day decisions involved in Aix-en-Provence grocery shopping.
Longworth has a real feel for her characters and her setting, as she states in her blog:
After moving to Aix-en-Provence in 1997, I began writing articles about the region. I couldn’t get enough of Provence. … I began having conversations in my head and realized that if I wrote fiction then my characters could live in, and experience, Provence as I do. Aix is a law town—it has been since the Middle Ages—which seemed to me a good place to situate a mystery, and I imagined my protagonists involved in the law profession. … But above all, I really want the reader to experience Aix-en-Provence the way I do, as if they were beside me.
Longworth most certainly makes Aix-en-Provence and its environs come alive in a most engaging way. The only downside to Death in the Vines is that when Verlaque finally does catch his culprit the reader will be disappointed—no more shared meals and good times with Verlaque and Bonnet until Longworth’s next entry.