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August 2018 book reviews

Connexion journalists read the latest French releases. To be fair, each gets 20 minutes’ reading time

Art in the South of France, Lynne Alderson

Aixcentric/Lulu, €31 ISBN: 5 800127 248737

Sometimes you pick up a book and just know from opening it up that it will be dipped into again and again over the years.

This is just such a book.

Filled with fabulous and fascinating information on artworks both famous and obscure and where to find them, it offers a brilliant guide to the south-east of France, from Arles to Menton.

The price may be a bit off-putting – actually, quite a bit off-putting – but the value lies in the quality of the information it gives on artists, their way of life and the places they worked.

Think Van Gogh in Arles, Signac in Saint-Tropez or Renoir and Matisse in Nice, Provence and the Côte d’Azur; the artists’ playground, where Cézanne said “The sun is so terrific here that it seems to me as if the objects were silhouetted not only in black and white, but in blue, red, brown and violet.”

Whether you want to walk in the artists’ footsteps, find the spots where famous works were created or discover contemporary sculptures in a busy vineyard the answers are here, superbly illustrated with many colour photos. This use of colour explains a large part of the cost of the book but the lack of a hard-back cover is a shame.


Monsieur X, Jamie Reid

Bloomsbury Sport, £18.99; ISBN: 978-1-4729-4229-6

Oh, what a lark! This is Patrice des Moutis as he takes on the establishment in his bid to beat the state-run PMU betting system ... and takes the gambling authorities for a ride.

Handsome – naturally – charming, well-educated and from an aristocratic family he is a compulsive gambler and bookie and plans his own version of breaking the bank at Monte Carlo.

But first he needs to know Bayes’ Theorem and the levels of probability in a 17-runner Tiercé race and how to turn the odds in his favour with his tricast bet (forecasting the 1,2,3 or a variation).

It meant 42 different combinations and 35 bets of 200 Francs on each. A total of FF294,000. The result was astonishing.

He won 35 times on the correct 1,2,3 and 35 times on the places to pick up a rather splendid 21million francs. 

Inspired, his bets grow so large that it takes 40 motorcycle couriers to ferry them to the PMU offices. He is betting 60, 70, 80million on the Pari-Mutuel and winning more – and more often.

With gambling bringing in up to 6% of the state’s total tax take, it strikes back.

Both biography and thriller, this is a wonderful read as Des Moutis, an audacious mathematician and gambler, taunts and outwits the state which had long been the only winner in PMU betting.


Hiding in Plain Sight, Susan Lewis

Arrow, £7.99; ISBN: 978-1-784-75675-8

This is the fourth in a series but from the first pages it is fairly clear that you do not need to have read the previous novels... it grips, grabs and pummels your emotions.

We meet ex-detective Andee Lawrence as she wanders the streets and bridges of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. A silver Mercedes stops in front of her, blocking her path. The window opens and a woman says “Remember me?”

It is almost 30 years since her younger sister, Penny, had vanished at the age of 14. But why has she suddenly returned and how did she know exactly where and when to find Andee...

You may think you can read a few pages and then do something else but there is little chance of that. Once started, you read on; you have a ‘need’ to know what happens next.

Until that moment, Andee had been in heaven but her sister’s sudden appearance leaves her shocked. Full of self-doubt, too, as Penny had sent a letter a few days after she ran away saying she had never felt loved by the family and especially Andee.

Then Andee’s mother calls; she has just had a phone call from someone who says she is Penny and she wants to meet.

But is it a hoax or a dream? Or the start of a nightmare...


Le Selfie Gascon, Perry Taylor

Anglo Gascon, €29; ISBN: 978-2954-855226

If you are feeling down or weary of life, then two minutes with this will cheer you up. Perry Taylor, who also draws cartoons for The Connexion, has a rare and splendid eye for life and the everyday oddities in France.

Whether it is a tractor-led traffic jam or a Gers goose pinching a baguette, there is always something to bring a smile.

This is the third ‘Gascon’ book and its basic – sometimes very basic – truths will be recognised by anyone living in the south-west and much wider afield.


A Taste for Vengeance, Martin Walker

Quercus, £18.99; ISBN: 978-1-78648-611-0

A British woman fails to turn up for a cookery class and then turns up dead, murdered along with an Irishman she had been travelling with, who is travelling on a false passport.

But this is a little bigger than Bruno, Chief of Police, expected as the Irishman has intelligence connections, a body covered in scars and a lengthy list of enemies.

Seemingly just another case in the life of Bruno in little St Denis in the Dordogne but Bruno fears the killers may be targeting more victims in the area.

And that is his problem as he is no longer just the town policeman, he has been promoted to head of police for the Vézère valley.

He has also been asked to lecture at his friend’s cookery classes and finds that more daunting than his new job.

Deliciously told, with plenty of mouth- watering south-west food and wines on the menu, it manages to combine investigations into murderous terrorists and a pregnant rugby player to create a far-fetched but still hugely enjoyable drama.

Bruno may be too good to be true but is based on a real policeman, which makes one long for the idyllic life he enjoys in la France profonde and envious of its bucolic charm.

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