Up for a trip to southern France, where mirth, mayhem, and Champagne rule? C’est vraiment drole! Translation: keep reading.
I not only write mysteries but I love reading them, too. My favorites are the ones that take me to new places and this week it’s a trip to France, all expenses paid by advertising magnate Simon Shaw.
In this week’s book review, Peter Mayle, the UK writer best known for his non-fiction memoir A YEAR IN PROVENCE, checks us into HOTEL PASTIS. It’s a mystery with a light touch and Gallic flavor, along with a generous helping of humor. The novel is perfectly plotted and beautifully choreographed with descriptions and dialogue that match up to both location and characters.
As the novel opens, Simon Shaw is getting divorced (#2) from shrewish gold digger Caroline. His London house is empty–she’s taken everything. But Simon is mega-rich and has the support of his long-time driver/butler/event manager/best friend Ernest who convinces him to take a vacation to France. A small car accident maroons Simon in a small town in Provence, where he meets the lovely French businesswoman Nicole.
Back in London, Simon knows the trip to France has demonstrated just how much he’s fallen out of love with the megawatt advertising world, his US business partner, and the staff at the ad agency Simon built. When Nicole proposes that he buy a half-finished building in Provence and turn it into a hotel, the idea first sounds absurd. But eventually Simon–and Ernest–jump off the corporate ship, bid adieu to London, and build the Hotel Pastis in Provence. (FYI: pastis is the licorice flavor liquor that turnes cloudy when mixed with water. Surprisingly refreshing, it is ubiquitous in the south of France. Pernod is one of the most popular brands.)
Interspersed with the Simon/Ernest/Nicole story line is the subplot of a group of locals who were once in prison together and are now plotting to rob a bank which has foolishly installed a new vault over a riverbank storm drain. The big robbery will take place on a festival day and the thieves will make their getaway by cycling away, hiding in plain sight amid the thousands of cyclistes there for the festivities.
Will the thieves succeed? Will their path cross Simon’s? What about Enrico, the Mafiaoso who threatens Simon and from whom the thieves must buy their false passports?
I can’t give any more away, except that this book draws you in with just the right amount of French lingo. You’ll want to go buy Champagne and foie gras and have a picnic in the sun. There is amusement on every page–Mayle’s writing style is light and deft, with a few laugh-out-loud moments, and just enough suspense to keep the action fresh and brisk. The characters, especially Simon and Ernest, are very well drawn. Not a traditional mystery, but high quality writing, supreme entertainment, and a joy to read from start to finish
Simon’s not the only one who gets to escape in HOTEL PASTIS.