Serena Kent: Death in Avignon

This was a delicious slice of armchair travel – I have never personally been to Provence, but I think my new life goal might be to get there.  Serena Kent’s British heroine, Penelope Kite, has started over in Provence after a divorce and seeing her children out of the nest.  She’s rehabbed a gorgeous old stone farmhouse (I’m assuming it’s gorgeous, because, by the sound of the book, everything in Provence is gorgeous). She lives a pleasant life walking into the village for croissants, eating lots of incredible sounding meals, drinking wine that sounds just as luscious, practicing her cello, and oh yes – she has a flair for detection.

As Penelope (call her Penny) lives in a small village, she’s gotten to know a few folks (this is book two in a series), and one of them, Clemence, invites her along to an art opening.  This, as it turns out, is a pretty classic Murder She Wrote style setting for a crime.  As Penny peruses the exhibit, she finds one artist who paints everything in black, one very feminist conceptual artist, a charming Brit ex-pat who is an absolutely awful painter, and one actually talented painter who uses antique pigments to achieve an otherworldly color effect.

Of course, one of the artists meets his maker at the exhibit (by poisoned olive, no less), and Penny embarks on an investigation despite herself.  As the killings begin to pile up, she finds herself more enmeshed in solving the original murder, but along the way the authors take you, the reader, on a fabulous tour of the Provencal countryside.

This dream is interrupted by a visit from Penny’s grown children, their spouses, and ill-behaved young, but it does force her to attend to the matter of rehabbing the bathrooms and making the house fit for guests.  It’s a pretty funny interval, and it reminded me very much of an updated version of Michael Bond’s classic Monsieur Pamplemousse series.  There’s a similar light touch and tone to the proceedings.

Penny also rediscovers her love of music, something she had put aside, and joins a group, expanding her friend base even further.  The crimes, however, are tied to the art world, and the reader gets a good look into the life of some of the French galleries where the action occurs.  While there’s an element of satire to the storytelling, it’s all pretty good natured.

The denouement is pleasantly caperish and the book concludes with a gorgeous wedding, which also happens to thwart Penny’s plans for a dinner a deux with a possible flame. There’s always book three to look forward to – this series already feels like a comfortable, delicious old shoe, and I’m hoping its life will be a long one.