Readers embarking on this first transatlantic sojourn in the prolific Maggie Newberry Mysteries are forgiven for thinking they’re in store for a charming (if a little morbid!) tale of magnifique banquets, amorous Frenchmen and cunning deductions by our Mary Sue ad copywriter turned amateur sleuth heroine, all set against the splendidly rendered backdrop of the Côte d’Azur.
“An indescribably sexy Frenchman brought her to a magical place by the sea and then made her his own in every sense of the word. Twice.”
If that does sound like your glass of Cabernet, you might want to stop reading Murder in the South of France before you hit the end of the third chapter. That’s when the spell breaks and we swap the cafes and cathedrals of the French Riviera for the dingy apartment blocks and polluted skies of crime-strewn Atlanta, Georgia, where going back to the daily grind is the least of Maggie’s woes.
I certainly didn’t expect things to get quite so grim and personal when this book started out so innocently. Alright, so it opens with Maggie identifying the mutilated corpse of her estranged sister, but Elise had left behind her sheltered upbringing of “ponies and private schools” to indulge her artistic side, and that’s just what you get for mixing with a bad crowd. It’s not like evil things happen to innocent, upstanding citizens… is it?
Susan Kiernan-Lewis deftly keeps readers on their toes in this thrilling murder mystery that owes as much to Agatha Christie as The Wire. Even veterans of the genre will have their deductive work cut out for them as they wade waist-deep through red herrings and get precious little in the way of clues from an overworked, incompetent police force. Meanwhile, fans of realism may have to suspend their disbelief when characters pathologically refuse to treat extraordinary coincidences with the suspicion they deserve.
But give Maggie a break, this is only her first time dealing with heart-rending international intrigue after all. We can look forward to her detective chops getting ever more finely honed in subsequent books as more of her family, friends and co-workers are ruthlessly culled in the name of our entertainment.