An entire season has passed since we last heard from Marie-Christine de Medici, the young American woman whose earlier visit to the French Riviera was quickly transformed from carefree vacation to murder investigation --- or rather, multiple-murder investigation. But that was over the summer, when Cannes and its environs likely would be crawling with bothersome criminals anyway. It's Christmas now, a time of peace and goodwill toward men, if you don't count the occasional man who turns up decidedly and deliberately dead.
Marie-Christine's holiday adventure begins quietly enough, with her parents and assorted other family members joining her at her Grand-mère's stately home in the Riviera town of Grasse not far from Cannes. Also invited to the celebration is Sister Felicity, a medieval manuscript expert from Scholastica Abbey on Cape Cod who proved instrumental in unraveling the summertime mystery. Given her presumed hotline to the Spirit --- and her memory of the harrowing events just four months earlier --- you might think she would reconsider this trip. But no. Sister Felicity is undaunted by the prospect of spending time once again with the unusual de Medicis and helping to guard a priceless illuminated manuscript that dates back to the 15th century.
You can probably tell where this is going, but that doesn't mean you won't enjoy the ride. Yes, the manuscript disappears, and yes, a dead body appears. But there seems to be no apparent connection between the body, which belongs to Chrissy's uncle, and the manuscript other than being under the same roof for a time, a roof that belongs, of course, to Grand-mère. And though the apparent victim is a family member, Chrissy's interest in the double mystery goes far beyond the personal. As the long-distance publisher of Grasse's local newspaper, Le Loup Garou, Chrissy has a professional interest in solving the crimes --- namely, a much-needed scoop that could breathe new life into the stagnant paper.
Adding a touch of romantic diversion is the appearance of Claude Bizzard, the Paris police inspector whom Grand-mère had earlier invited to spend Christmas with the family. Presumably, she's well aware that the man makes Chrissy weak in the knees, and equally presumably, she enjoys Chrissy's behavior when he's around more than she would ever admit. Bizzard lends his support to the investigation, which involves a fair amount of religious intrigue added to the theft and murder.
Mary-Jane Deeb handles the intricate plot with her usual skill, though I confess I found some of the background and conversations about the two manuscripts --- did I fail to mention there were two manuscripts? --- to be confusing. But I decided to disregard my confusion and get back to enjoying the story and its many references to culinary delights, taking place in France and all. Yes, Deeb knows her food and describes it well. Expect to salivate a time or two.
A CHRISTMAS MYSTERY IN PROVENCE is an entertaining book that would make a delightful gift for mystery lovers --- as well as readers like me who would buy pretty much anything with "Christmas mystery" in the title.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on November 13, 2011
A Christmas Mystery in Provence