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I have to say that I was expecting this book to be a trashy read. Not all was as expected though; I imagined from the name of the author that he was English. Louise Sanders is actually French, although married to an English wife, and the book was written in his native language and translated. This gave me some hope for a while that it might be a bit better than trashy; unfortunately this was not the case. The book was completely readable and would be perfect for a day at the beach, but apart from that there is not much to recommend it.
The Englishman from Berthonie as the narrator of the story is known, gave up a successful career and partner to live in France in half of an old farmhouse; the aim being to take some time off and paint. Just as he is settling in to his new life, a villager from a neighbouring village is found dead, apparently squashed by a falling branch. However, as The Englishman is to find out, this is not the first son of the family to die and it was not an accidental death.
Intrigued, The Englishman starts to investigate. There are any number of suspects in the surrounding area, including the boyfriend of the dead mans sister, a drunk old Englishman and his mysterious wife and daughter and the Old Dutch Woman (who isnt really Dutch) and her mentally handicapped son. But what is the motive? And what is the strange scratching sound coming from the other half of The Englishmans house? Can the solution be found before another murder takes place?
Im usually very suspicious of writers whose main character is not of their own nationality. In this case, it wasnt too bad. The author is obviously quite sympathetic towards the English, and although there are some clichés of the typical Brit abroad, it is quite gently done and isnt offensive. If anything, the author tends to take the mickey out of his own countryfolk. Still, it was a struggle to get under the skin of any of the characters. Frankly, none of them, least of all the narrator, are either well described or remotely likeable. I wasnt too disappointed by this though; after all, most characters in works of crime fiction arent particularly likeable.
What did disappoint me was the story itself. It starts off well; there is the murder and then the slow introduction to all the characters, all of whom have something odd about them and could have played a role in the murder. Then come the strange happenings and the odd noises. It seems as if something exciting is about to happen then it all falls as flat as a pancake. It isnt the worst ending I have ever come across, but it left me feeling like I wish I hadnt bothered, and it is very rare for me to feel that about a book I have an extremely high tolerance for utter rot.
All this is a great shame, because it could have been a very good story. I picked it up primarily because I liked the idea of a mystery set in a small French village; very similar to one in which my partners parents have an old farmhouse, and we have spent many happy holidays there. I did enjoy some of the descriptions; the local market, where both the locals and incomers have stalls, the latter catering for the many foreigners this is exactly like one we often visit on holiday. This small advantage was not enough to make up for the rest of the book though.
The translation is admirably handled by Adriana Hunter. If I hadnt read the blurb about the author at the front of the book, I would have thought that it had been written in English in the first place.
I think that if you want something light, easy and quick to read and you like books about France, then you may like this book. It is certainly better than having nothing at all to read. However, if you have a choice, stick to something else. Not recommended.
I hope Ive put you off, but if you do want to buy, it is available from play.com for £5.99. Published by Serpents Tail, it is a short read at just 192 pages. ISBN: 185242673X