My thanks go out to Sarah, representing publisher Bookouture, for saving me a place on this lovely ‘Books On Tour’ schedule.
I also need to thank the great NetGalley team, for always making life so easy when downloading review copies.
THE FRENCH FOR MURDER (Lady Eleanor Swift #10)
Summer 1923. Lady Eleanor Swift is finally persuaded by her butler, Clifford, to take a villa in the south of France for the season. She plans to do what a glamorous lady abroad should: long lunches on the balcony followed by lazy afternoons lounging by the pool. Even Gladstone the bulldog is looking forward to a daily paddle in the ocean.
But when Clifford examines the wine cellar, he discovers there are no decent reds but there is a very dead body. The victim is famous American movie star Rex Armstrong. Poor Rex seems to have been stabbed with a sword from the film set. So how did he end up in Eleanor’s villa?
Before Eleanor even has time to change out of her travelling suit, her beloved butler is arrested for the crime. At sea without her right-hand man, Eleanor must gather her wits if she’s to outsmart a murderer and save Clifford.
Attending a glitzy party at the luxurious Hotel Azure with the film’s cast and crew so she can question her main suspects, Eleanor overhears the director having a most unsettling telephone call that throws all her theories out of the water. Can Eleanor unmask the true killer before her time abroad is cut murderously short?
Starting out writing high-end travel articles and books, they published everything from self-improvement to humour, before embarking on their first historical mystery.
They are the authors of the fabulous Lady Eleanor Swift Mystery series, set in the 1920s.
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‘I apologise for delivering news of an inconvenient nature, my lady, but there appears to be a dead body in the wine cellar.’
“I know, m’lady. We all want Mr Clifford back where he belongs. But there was nothing achieved on an empty stomach what couldn’t have been done twice as well and in half the time as on a full one”
“Again, I say to you that I am happy he is no longer in my jail. But” – he held up his pencil – “with the murders you solved before, you understand one always suspects the one who finds the body, non?”
“You do not deserve to have art because you care nothing for its value. All that burns inside you is the love of money! And so you think to insult the creator and pay nothing for a great work!”
“I suppose some people want money as recognition as to their worth, or their art’s worth. Some want it just so they can eat. And some care nothing for money, but just want fame and adulation”
“One need never be alone if one chooses not to be. It is merely a matter of re-adjusting one’s definitions”
“The greatest lesson is in learning one need never be at the mercy of one’s situation”
“We’ve been faced with tricky conundrums when caught up in these things before, but for some reason, I can’t make sense of my thoughts this time. I keep running over my conversations with the suspects. But they’re as muddled with the additional information you’ve unearthed and everything Damboise has drip fed us as if I’d dropped the whole lot in Blendine the Blender. Honestly, Clifford, my brain is as thick as a raspberry souffle, but greatly less enjoyable”
“A grand villa, croissants for breakfast and a dead body in the wine cellar… Lady Swift can’t seem to take a vacation from murder!”
It doesn’t seem possible that this is the tenth episode, in this totally addictive and immersive, ‘Golden Age’, cozy mystery series. The murders Lady Eleanor Swift has been called upon to solve to date, have all been very diverse, yet quintessentially typically British in their nature. However in this case, I am very much minded of similar French Riviera locations and characters introduced to readers by the late, great Agatha Christie in a couple of her books, but with a few clever twists, which makes this very much, a uniquely Verity Bright storyline.
Still more than worth the full 5*, for me personally, this storyline did not resonate quite so easily as those of previous episodes. Not because of any fault with the plot, which was just as devious and difficult to unravel. Or because of the quality of the narrative and dialogue, which was so immersive and descriptive that I was left feeling more than satisfied with my first virtual trip along the Cote d’Azur. I believe it is simply that the raucous goings on, together with the alcohol and drug excesses among the rich and famous of the upper class thespian set and artist scene, are just not me and did not make me feel comfortable or relaxed.
I felt that the descriptive narrative and dialogue, offering a very real sense of time and place, was particularly strong in this storyline. However if, like myself, you are a confirmed ‘armchair traveller’ and real sucker for detail about location in your reading, then flick to the end of the book before you settle down with the story and check out the ‘Historical Notes’ section. Author, Verity Bright, has provided plenty of delicious facts about so many of the locations, events and physical objects, which are alluded to in the story, that I defy you not to be sated after reading it and suitably armed to dive into the action. In fact, you really should read it, no matter how ‘au fait’ you may consider yourself to be about detail, it is just so interesting and informative.
Right! My usual ‘spoiler free’ dash through the storyline, is going to be very short and sweet this time, as the premise is already quite replete with detail, and spoilers lurk around just about every corner!
Do my eyes deceive me, or did I just read that Lady Eleanor Swift, at the ripe old age of 31 years, has decided to finally take her title and position seriously and retire from the amateur sleuthing game. Is she really about to spend her summer in a villa on the Cote d’Azur, doing all the things expected of someone in her position – being seen in all the right places and lazing around the pool looking decorative? Well, that little plan works for about an hour, until her butler, come confidante, come valued mentor, Clifford, discovers a body in the cellar and all hell breaks loose when the French police hit the scene. Or rather the very eccentrically dressed and dapper, Inspector Damboise, who jumps to instant conclusions, partly fuelled by the fact that it is Mayor Lessard, who essentially runs the town and has the final say about almost everything, and who wants to avoid the scandal of a murder at all costs, especially when some rich and influential visiting American film makers, are involved. He is quite willing for his more restrained and dignified British cousins to shoulder the blame for a crime, which to all intents and purposes, never even happened, and it takes all of Eleanor’s cajoling ways and feminine wiles to strike a deal, in an effort to free Clifford and save his reputation.
When help of the four-legged variety saves the day, Clifford and Eleanor are reunited, but only on the proviso that they solve the mystery of both the body in the cellar and the missing letting agent, without causing any undue fuss amongst the temperamental American film crew, or the homegrown French artisans who are tagging along, more than happy to party at someone else’s expense. In fact, they are all living it up large, at huge cost to Kitty and Floyd Fitzwilliams, fellow Americans, money brokers, turned benefactors of the arts, who are splashing the cash as if it is going out of fashion. No one can explain who they are and why they have shown up at this particular time and place, although it becomes obvious to Eleanor and Clifford, that their presence is definitely more by design rather than coincidence. None of this large, sprawling and self-entitled group of humanity are particularly likeable. They have no regard for someone else’s property and it’s not only the money which seems to be flowing with complete abandon. Alcohol and various other substances are freely available and amidst this melee, Eleanor has to try and surreptitiously question any suspects, without arousing their suspicions, which would in turn bring the ire of the mayor down upon her.
When one murder becomes two, time is running out for Eleanor and Clifford, as with filming complete, the Americans prepare to pack up and cross back over the ocean, with the French returning to their own disparate enclaves of Bohemia. When finally the various strands of the case begin to come together and Eleanor spots the missing link, she unwittingly on this occasion, puts not only her own life in serious danger, but Clifford’s also, for which she feels abjectly miserable and guilty. Whilst things eventually ‘came good’ for all concerned, even the limelight seeking Mayor, everyone was more than happy to get life back to normal, with peace and quiet being the order of things, after all the high energy conflict of the last few days.
As always, this multi-layered, highly textured, traditional murder/mystery storyline, was well structured and fluently written over many concise and well signposted chapters, which kept the action fast-paced and seamlessly evolving, with literally never a dull moment. The suspect list was lengthy, the twists and turns just kept on coming, and even Clifford’s usually well-ordered mind struggled to correlate the facts in any meaningful way. This time it was very much Eleanor, whose much more haphazard approach to solving a murder, was totally suited to the ever changing complexities of this mystery, saved the day, but only at the absolute eleventh hour. Although how she arrived at her conclusions I never could quite work out, so ultimately the actual perpetrator was nowhere to be found on my own suspect list.
A large, sprawling cast of guest characters appear in this episode, none of which, with the possible exception of Inspector Damboise, are particularly likeable, or in whom I could invest too much of my time or emotional energy. Selfish, demanding, manipulative and duplicitous, are all words which come readily to mind, to describe this eclectic mix of artisans, who are all jostling for the position of ‘top dog’, which made for a very unreliable, volatile and toxic atmosphere whenever they were around, meaning I was always on the edge of my seat and alert for their sudden changes in demeanour and temperament.
In my review of book #9 in the series, I described Clifford as an enigma. However, during the course of this latest investigation, Eleanor is taken into his confidence in a way hitherto unknown to anyone except her late Uncle Byron, who had been acquainted with Clifford since he was a young man. In a rare display of trust and openness, he answers many of Eleanor’s questions, his explanations only confirming Eleanor’s own thoughts about the way in which he is able to handle himself in a difficult situation, yet manages to maintain his decorum at all other times. His loyalty to his new mistress is without question, although at times he appears to act more like a middle-aged bachelor uncle, than a stuffed-shirt butler and Eleanor now understands just exactly how much it means to have such a wise confidante by her side.
The rather Bohemian background of Eleanor’s youth and the fact that little phases or shocks her, comes in very handy with her dealings with this eclectic mix of entitled humanity. However, as her closer working relationship with the redoubtable Inspector Damboise, brings her into contact with his charming wife and family, it also becomes all too apparent to the ever watchful and observant Clifford, just how easily his mistress relates to the young Damboise children, as an altogether softer side to her personality emerges. I think that even Eleanor herself is surprised by her changing emotions and feelings, so I really think that Hugh might need to get his act together and declare his intentions, if he is in anyway serious about their relationship, before Eleanor might find the need to move on without him.
Even the ever faithful Gladstone, manages to disgrace himself on foreign soil, leaving just about everyone he visits hopping around on one foot, whilst they play the new game of ‘shoe hide and seek’! Like everyone else, by the time this current debacle is over, he will be pleased to return to home shores and the comfort of his own hearth. Also, like his mistress, he will be happy to see the dependable Chief Inspector Hugh Seldon, who only played a short cameo telephone role in this episode and was very much missed. However, having found out about the danger his irrepressible companion has put herself in once again, both Eleanor and Clifford are going to have to face some very loud music, before life can return to anything resembling normal.
A complimentary download of this book for review purposes, was made available by Bookouture and supplied by NetGalley
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!