Sherlock Holmes once remarked to Dr. Watson, as they were taking a train out of London to work on a case at a country house:
“Do you know, Watson,” said he, “that it is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there.”
“Good heavens!” I cried. “Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?”
“They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.” (from The Adventure of the Copper Beeches)
Detective Jacques Forêt left his investigative job in Paris to take up a post as gendarme, a regular policeman, in Messandriere, a rural village in the Cévennes region. He had hopes that this new, less high-powered assignment would help him heal from an injury and traumatic events in Paris (left shadowy) and bring him a measure of peace. Yet it is not working out this way. “Numbers Jacques“ (as he became known on the Paris force) cannot help noticing the mounting total of strange disappearances in this tiny village. Meeting with his associate Thibault Clergue for lunch, they chew over more than their plate of charcuterie:
“That’s four disappearances in thirteen months, Thibault.” Deciding to leave the ham until last he took a mouthful of salami instead and chewed on it. “That’s almost Paris statistics and this is a village a fraction of the size of the city.”
“Ah.” Clergue scraped his fork through a slice of rosette and stuffed it into his mouth. “Numbers Jacques!”
The use of his old nickname from his time in the Judiciaire in Paris made him wince…
Another thing that is making Jacques Forêt wince is the aloofness of his girlfriend, photographer Beth Samuels, who has just returned to Messandrierre but chose not to let him know herself. It seems they were very close during her last visit, but this time she is pulling away from him. She is overwhelmed with questions surrounding her deceased husband Dan’s curious business dealings and her own concerns about disposing of their property. She clearly still admires Jacques but doesn’t want to let herself resume their relationship–the very thing Jacques wants above all else.
Beth becomes embroiled in the string of disappearances when a couple of hiking tourists stop for the entire afternoon at her place, and then one of them, Rob Myers, fails to show up to meet his friend Will later that week. Beth is very concerned about Rob’s whereabouts but she is evasive when Jacques must question her in his capacity as Messandrierre’s gendarme.
“Did they say anything about where they were going?” Jacques noticed that her frown had returned and that she was twisting her wedding ring round and round her finger. He wondered why. “Or, perhaps, they mentioned what their plans were?” Putting his notebook down he observed her as she formed her response. A moment later, when he recognized that she was avoiding his gaze, he prompted her gently. “Anything they said could be helpful, Beth.”
“But that’s the point. Had I known that you would be here today asking me about them I would have paid more attention. But it was just chitchat, you know. They said something about working for the summer.” She looked at the floor.
Her reticence disturbs him, both professionally and personally: what could she be hiding? The investigation continues and before long, Beth is in real danger of becoming the next missing person. To me, Beth seems too trusting and takes too many chances; she might benefit from following the old maxim to be careful when talking to strangers!
Messandrierre works very well as a mystery/thriller. About 10% into the book, I caught myself having forgotten for a few moments that I was reading–surely a good sign–instead, I was completely caught up in the story and its very effective suspense. The author uses a lot of dramatic irony, in which the reader knows that one character or another is blithely hurtling into danger, and the dénouement is quite chilling. Sherlock Holmes was right about the “dreadful” crimes that can go unnoticed in the “smiling and beautiful countryside,” unless he and Watson–or Jacques Forêt–are on the case. I look forward eagerly to the next books in this new mystery series.
Besides the author’s website be sure to visit her blog, James et Moi, to read her illuminating “interviews” with her characters, Jacques and Beth. I loved reading these charming (and rather sly) pieces and seeing the beautiful photos of France she used to illustrate them:
Release date: December 8, 2015
at Crooked Cat Publishing Ltd
Sacrificing his job in investigation following an incident in Paris, Jacques Forêt has only a matter of weeks to solve a series of mysterious disappearances as a Gendarme in the rural French village of Messandrierre. But, as the number of missing persons rises, his difficult and hectoring boss puts obstacles in his way. Steely and determined, Jacques won’t give up and, when a new Investigating Magistrate is appointed, he becomes the go-to local policeman for all the work on the case. Will he find the perpetrators before his lover, Beth, becomes a victim? Messandrierre – the first in a new crime series featuring investigator, Jacques Forêt.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Having followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre. I’ve been writing, in a serious way, for about 5 years. My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life. I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work. My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical. I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio. The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.
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*Note*: I received an advance electronic copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation, and the views expressed in my review are my own opinions.