June 2019 book reviews

Connexion journalists read the latest French releases. To be fair, each gets 20 minutes’ reading time. This month: As Twilight Fades Away, Requiem in Yquem, Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses, and The Barefoot Girl

29 May 2019
By Connexion journalist
As Twilight Fades Away, Peter Harrison ***EDITOR'S CHOICE***

Lulu.com, £9.99 ISBN: 978-0-244-99750-2

When Charles Drew meets Daphne Ferris, he is intrigued by her strange, mysterious and grumpy character.

The retired lady despises everyone and does not appear to need new friends in her retirement home on the hills above the French Riviera.

However, after spending a few weeks in the same home, Mr Drew and Mrs Ferris appear to be unwittingly drawn to each other. Mr Drew even finds himself following her car to the airport without realising it.

This is probably where their friendship begins, as it is on this day that the former policeman finds out who the real Daphne Ferris is... and he discovers that this woman has a secret life.

He is now the only one to know about her two different characters and has to make her realise that he knows.

As soon as the secret is out, he becomes great friends with her and actually finds a beautiful soul in the cold-hearted woman he thought she was.

Mrs Ferris also feels more and more comfortable with him and so begins a great adventure for the two retirees.

Only one thing is certain: they will not sit doing crosswords all day but will have a great time together enjoying new exploits and acquaintances – notably after the arrival of Lady Sophie Vanseer, who is about to turn their world upside down. 

 

Requiem in Yquem, Jean-Pierre Alaux and  Noël Balen

Le French Book, £12.36 ISBN: 978-1-943-99811-1

After a murder in the region of Sauternes, winemaker Benjamin Cooker and his employee Virgile feel the need to understand how someone could kill two sleeping retirees in their home.

The murder seems even more bizarre as nothing was stolen from the family home.  

Meanwhile, as the investigation starts, the two characters also have to deal with their personal and family issues.

However, like all the villagers, they really begin to wonder about this murder, which is making the headlines all over Occitanie.

Virgile feels particularly connected to the village where the couple were murdered as he has a lot of childhood memories there.But Benjamin Cooker is more interested in the wines of Château d’Yquem, which have been fascinating him for years.

In leading their own investigation, he somewhat disrupts the official one but will they discover more? Possibly, but one things is sure: the murderer is at large.

What they do learn about are the secrets of their region and the importance of its vineyards. This story manages to mix crime, family, remorse and memories while giving a view of the famous vineyards in the South West of France.

 

Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses, Georges Simenon

Penguin Books, £7.99 ISBN: 978-0-241-30385-6

Translated by William Hobson, Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses is part of a series of novels written by Georges Simenon who created the famous fictional detective Maigret, who also inspired the TV series.

Maigret is often compared to Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot but his character has something unique and different – a little arrogance to make him even more Parisian.

In this book, the wealthy Parisian family Lachaume, which owns a well-known biscuit company in France, finds their elder brother, Léonard, shot dead in his bed.

Maigret is called in to investigate. However, the family of the victim is not very co-operative and claims that they did not see or hear anything during the night. One of Léonard’s brothers, who was sleeping in the room next door, even proclaims himself to be a heavy sleeper to explain the fact he did not hear a sound.

What is more surprising is that none of them seems sad or in grief yet. For them, the only thing that really matters is the business. 

The family’s lawyer insists on making the police interviews as short as possible and to be there while the detective asks his questions.

After speaking with the family, Maigret is left without a clue as to what really happened during the night. It could have been a robbery but he is not convinced. And who could kill a man like Léonard Lachaume, so quiet and work-driven? One of his brothers? His employees? The maid? His sister-in-law?

As the case unfolds, it is evidently very complicated to find the murderer as the family remains guarded and secretive.

After some research, Maigret makes contact with the black sheep of the family, Véronique Lachaume, who reveals new information and some of the family’s darkest secrets. While this could have helped Maigret, the subsequent murder of the magistrate shrouds the case in mystery again...

There is a lot of action to enjoy and plenty of riddles in this novel. But as always, Maigret does not disappoint and will surely find the truth in spite of all the family’s lies and secrets.

This book is a classic of the collection of Georges Simenon, a real page-turner blending drama, murder and mystery.

 

The Barefoot Girl, Isabelle Verneuil

Ophrys, €10 ISBN: 978-2-7080-1381-0

Since the plot here has nothing extraordinary to offer, this book is  best enjoyed as an exploration of cultural differences and what it means to juggle two languages – French and English.

Julia, a 20 year-old Canadian, comes to France to be an au pair. It is a new adventure for her as well for the host family.

Although the children in her charge are raised by an English teacher, it is not easy for Julia to communicate when others make no effort to understand her.

The first days are very difficult for the young woman, as they are for the French family’s little boy, who is not making it easy for his new nanny.

So Julia starts a diary, just like one of the little girls she takes care of, Maud. They both note down personal confessions about their experiences in the new set-up.

Structurally, each chapter present a different point of view in alternating languages. One is in French with Maud’s point of view and the following one in English with Julia’s point of view.

The story offers life lessons on sharing and learning a foreign language, but also helps evaluate your level in French – you can discover new expressions, often explained at the bottom of the page.

A light, easy read accessible to anyone who is trying to learn French or English.

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