Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Unusual Death; Wrong Wine - Death in Paris by Emilia Bernhard

Death in Paris

The start of a delightful new cozy mystery series in which two American women are drawn into solving a series of crimes set in each Parisian arrondissement.

Edgar Bowen is dead, drowned in a bowl of soup. His former girlfriend, Rachel Levis, is surprised: how many people drown in a nice vichyssoise? Then she overhears a mourner at the funeral describe the circumstances of Edgar's death: when he was found, an open bottle of rosé wine was on the table next to him. But Rachel knows Edgar loathed rosé. If he wasn't drinking it, who was?

The police won't listen to the suspicions of a woman who has nothing more than an inappropriate bottle of wine on her side, so Rachel knows she, and her best friend Magda, will have to solve the mystery on their own. As the two women investigate, the list of suspects grows. Could it have been Edgar's son, who stands to inherit his money and lavish apartment? His icy ex-wife? His spendthrift new girlfriend? It seems like everyone close to Edgar had a reason to want him dead.

But then the suspects start dying, and Rachel and Magda realize the murderer is one step ahead of them, with no intention of slowing down. It's up to the two amateur sleuths to solve their first case, before someone gets away with murder…

Death in Paris

By Emilia Bernhard

"Edgar Bowen died in his soup." Rachel Levis said to her husband, looking up from her newspaper. They were just finishing breakfast, and the table was crowded with jams and mugs and the bag that had held the morning's croissants, now flattened in the center with some buttery crumbs still resting on it..."

Of course, telling her husband about the oddity of somebody dying in their soup, literally,  was common breakfast discussion over reading the newspaper. That it was unusual, was, needless to say, true. After all, drowning in a bowl of soup, sitting in front of you on your dining table, was just not the way to go!

But that wasn't what bothered Rachel Levis so much... She did not share that Edgar Bowen had once been her lover many years ago, when she had first come to Paris. No, for that discussion, she needed her best friend Magda... Having been friends for about 20 years, Magda knew just about everything, including the time she had lived with Edgar... For Rachel, it had been her first adult love affair. Now, with Magda, Rachel could mourn and look back on her lost love, with love, regret and nostalgia of her youth.

And when Rachel wanted to attend the funeral, of course, Magda went with her. It was her only time to say a last goodbye...

So, Rachel was not totally surprised to be called to the reading of his will, realizing that, as they had greeted each other over the years when they met, that he had, like her, considered the other a good friend... Rachel shared to Magda that "he was a good man." And then wondered what his son was like, now, as an adult, knowing that she had once tied his shoelaces and helped him through the day...

We have to go," Rachel hissed. "We have to go now." She smiled apologetically...
"God, what are you doing? What are you doing? Magda struggled to free her arm, Ow! What's the hurry?"
"I heard something."
"What do you mean, you heard something?"
"Wait." Rachel handed their tokens to the coat-check girl. She didn't speak again until they were out on the sidewalk...I'm sorry. But I didn't want to say anything until we were a safe distance away."
"Away from what? What is it?
"It's just...well, I was listening to some people on the other side of the room from you, and a woman said Edgar had been drinking rose' with the vichyssoise he drowned in."
"Rose' with vichyssoise?" Magda's tone made it plain that she had no idea what was going on. "Well, it wouldn't be my choice, but I don't see what it's alarming."
"No!" Rachel spoke through gritted teeth. "You don't understand. Edgar never drank rose'."
"Oh come on, Never?"
Rachel shook her head. 
"He wouldn't even have settled for it if there was nothing better in the house?"
"He always had something better in the house," Rachel's tone was explanatory. "He hated rose', He said it was a good white spoiled."
..."The point is, something is wrong here."
"Where?" Magda was lost.
"Here. With Edgar's death."
"Okay," Magda held up a hand. "Calm down. What is wrong?"
Rachel thought for a long minute. "I don't know," She thought again. "I don't know." Then her voice firmed. "But something is. Something feels strange..."

Thinking through all that had occurred, it was soon reasoned by Rachel that Edward had been murdered. And she was going to find out what happened. Of course, Magda was totally ready to participate. 

It turned out to be quite easy because, in his will, Edgar had asked Rachel to inventory and deal with his library and, in return, she could pick out the one book that she wanted in payment. Of course, many would think that wasn't much of a remembrance, but Rachel and Edgar had spent many hours enjoying books in their lives and she would be quite happy to have one last memory of that precious time...

But, working in the library would also help! She would be right there where she could try to find out more information about Edgar's heirs, especially since they had ruled it as an accidental death--drowning...

Readers are right in the midst of discovering and discussing every single clue as their investigation began. There were four other heirs, including the majority going to Edgar's son. The other three were women--his former wife, a present lover, and a young woman who was going to school and helping Edgar with his work... And all of them became suspects, since they were each given a sum of money that confused everybody as to the amounts... Why did this person get that amount, and so on.

The heirs were all suspects, especially the women... They all enjoyed drinking rose'. And, the wine had obviously been there for their pleasure...

The plot thickens, as it is said, quickly and effectively, as one by one each individual's lives was explored, only to have something else occur that pointed to another...I admit it, I was totally caught off-guard! Cool, right? I love it when I don't even think of whodunit! Bernhard writes with complex twists and turns, leading us through a labyrinth of possibilities. And the various, intriguing characters all lead the story forward without one single clue...

Until we are moving into the climax. Rachel realizes...And she is in danger...
A great, solid mystery--more complex than the normal cozy and an excellent debut to this new series. Highly recommended. By the way, a French glossary is included for reader assistance.


Emilia Bernhard was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1968. She got a B.A. from the University of Iowa, an M.A. from Boston University, and a Ph.D. from Brandeis University. A keen mover, she has lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Iowa City, Iowa; London, England; Boston, Massachusetts; Fayetteville, Arkansas, Cambridge, England, and Exeter, England. She is a passionate lover of baked goods and cats.

Although she has been writing all her life, _Death in Paris_ is Bernhard's first published novel, and the first in the continuing Death in Paris series. The series' two detectives, Rachel Levis and Magda Stevens, are based in part on her and her best friend.

In her other capacity, she works at the University of Exeter in Exeter, England, teaching Nineteenth-Century British Literature and Academic Writing.

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