Penguin has released in paperback Murder in the Rue Dumas, the second in a series of detective novels by M. L. Longworth featuring the Chief Magistrate of Aix-en-Provence, Judge Antoine Verlaque. The first novel, Death at the Chateau Bremont, centered around a family with old secrets and was a bit of a closed room murder mystery. For her second novel Longworth keeps the reader (mostly) in town, as a teacher at the University is murdered, and Verlaque, with the help of his law professor girlfriend Marine Bonnet, sorts out the clues to catch the killer.
The case centers around a prestigious academic scholarship, forged artwork, and professional reputations – all of which may have played a part in the murder of theology Professor Moutte. As much as most of their questions center around university life, Verlaque and Bonnet also have occasion to leave their beloved Aix and travel up and down the coast of southern France, to Paris, and take a side trip to Italy to solve the mystery. But more importantly, the reader is treated to the various dishes and especially the wines that the pair always find time to sample during the course of their investigations.
Longworth deftly portrays a large cast of characters (some of them suspects), including theology students, professors, and friends and neighbors of Verlaque and Bonnet, including police commissioner Bruno Paulik, the chief magistrate’s right hand. As interesting as the university milieu may be, and as intricate as the mystery is, what provides the most pleasure in reading Murder in the Rue Dumas is Longworth’s description of Verlaque and Bonnet’s daily lives – their up-and-down romance, their conversations, and their relationship to food and wine. The author vividly depicts the town of Aix-en-Provence, its markets, its citizens, and its glorious food. One can practically smell the freshly-baked croissants and savor the espresso on Verlaque’s breakfast table.
It might add to the enjoyment of reading Murder in the Rue Dumas if one has taken a trip to the south of France, but it is certainly not necessary (although a map of Aix would have been welcome). The experience of reading Murder in the Rue Dumas is definitely enjoyable, whether one is a Francophile or not. And happily for fans of this delightful series is the news that the third book in the Verlaque and Bonnet series, Death in the Vines, is set to be released this July. Bon!