Go to Homepage   Susan Kiernan-Lewis: Toujours Dead


Crescent Blues Book ViewsImage:Two and a half  moon gifAbdale Books (Trade Paperback), ISBN 0-9706716-0-1
Conventional wisdom in the U.S. publishing industry dictates that novels set in France do not sell. Don't ask me why. Any country steeped in as much history, native beauty and mystique as France should be a prime locale -- providing the story offers engaging characters and a compelling plot. Unfortunately, I found neither in Toujours Dead.

Book: Susan Kiernan, toujours deadWhen her French live-in boyfriend, Laurent Denier, inherits an ancient vineyard in Province, Maggie Newberry quits her job in Atlanta to accompany him for a year abroad. The postcard-perfect village of St-Buvard appears quaint and serene. Neither Maggie nor Laurent can imagine the rampant evil roiling just beneath its placid surface.

Fifty years earlier, the massacre of an English family on the steps of Maggie and Laurent's majestic new home rocked St-Buvard. While the town's World War II hero confessed to the deed as a "crime of passion," his neighbors refused to believe his story and hanged a gypsy man -- who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time -- instead. When the gypsy's unsavory grandson begins harassing Maggie at every turn, it proves to be just the beginning of their troubles.

Like a gourmet French recipe, several other characters contribute to the unlikely mix: the pious lady baker, the American playboy who impregnates her, the wealthy but grossly dysfunctional American family, the town tramp and the disaffected family of the WWII hero whose life was ruined by the scandal. When the playboy turns up murdered at a wine-tasting party, no one believes there can be a connection to the previous crime. No one except Maggie.

I found myself put off by the main characters' frequent displays of callowness as they eat and drink and make merry throughout the course of the book. Conversations often run thusly: "He was murdered in your wine cellar? How awful! Would you like a petit-four with your café au lait?" Such flightiness, while perhaps realistic to a degree, fails to engage my sympathies as a reader. It also makes the characters' later personality shifts that much more difficult to believe.

Equally difficult for me to believe was the revelation of who committed the murders, based on what I know of weaponry and human physiological development.

However, I do award a bonus point to Kiernan-Lewis for getting her French right, though I docked half a point because the frequency of use might be a bit too invasive for the non-French-speaking reader. The author gets another point for her unique descriptions of countless French meals -- though I swear I gained five pounds just by reading about them.

For that, maybe I'll take off another half-point . . . after I've finished my crème brulée.

Kim D. Headlee

Click here to share your views.