M.L. Longworth: Death at the Château Bremont, Guest Post & Book Giveaway
I admit it, I'm a Francophile. Knowing that, you won't be surprised that I couldn't resist picking up Death at the Chateau Bremont with a cover complete with chateau, spilled wine and a dead body! What's more, the book is set in historic Aix-en-Provence! Billed as a Verlaque and Bonnet Mystery, it portends to be a series. Great! Death at the Chateau Bremont has wonderful characters and fabulous setting, with new insights into the French police system. Thoroughly enjoyed Death at the Chateau Bremont.
BOOK GIVEAWAY: WIN A COPY OF DEATH AT THE CHATEAU BREMONT. Comment on your most "French" experience.
M.L. Longworth has written for The Washington Post, The Times (London), The Independent, and Bon Appétit magazine. She divides her time between Aix-en-Provence and Paris, where she teaches writing at New York University's Paris campus.
I was once stuck on an article I was writing about the Aix-en-Provence of Paul Cézanne, and a very generous editor at The Washington Post gave me this advice: Okay, so you’re writing about this new place that you love. But what did Cézanne see and hear when he walked from his studio in Aix, along a country road, to the village of Le Tholonet? What did he smell when he climbed the paths of Mont Ste-Victoire? What did he taste when he ate lunch at Les Deux Garçons? These words are always in the back of my head, regardless of whether I’m writing an article about a local restaurant or a chapter in my next book. I really want the reader to experience Aix-en-Provence the way I do, as if they were beside me.
We moved to Aix in 1997 and I immediately began writing articles about the region. I couldn’t get enough of Provence. But after a few years I began to grow restless; not with the area, but with the restrictions of writing non-fiction. I began having conversations in my head and realized that if I wrote fiction then my characters could live in, and experience, Provence as I do. Aix is a law town—it has been since the Middle Ages—which seemed to me a good place to situate a mystery, and I imagined my protagonists involved in the law profession.
But before you begin writing a novel, you need characters. From the start I had a clear picture of Antoine Verlaque in my head: he would be troubled but savable, a snob but with a sense of humor. He’s a gourmet, and a gourmand (for the French, someone who eats too much), just like I am, and we both love good wines and Cuban cigars. I didn’t have a role model for the heroine; I just knew that I wanted her to be very unlike myself. One afternoon, while I was trying on clothes in my friend Joelle’s shop, her sister hurried in. She was tall, beautiful, sweet and a little anxious, and a law professor. She became Marine. I thought it might be a good idea to develop a mystery series where there’s a couple doing the sleuthing, not yet married. Their relationship may be exciting, but it has lots of ups and downs.
The other characters were easier to fill in, as Aixois are so willing to chat, and after a few conversations you’ll discover that the cheese seller knows more about contemporary theatre than anyone you’ve ever met; or that your hairdresser is also a competitive cyclist. I didn’t have to exaggerate for the book; Bruno Paulik (the Commissioner) is a policeman but is an opera aficionado and loves plant life. Fabrice, the cigar-club president, is a plumber with a vast knowledge of Cuban music. There’s often more to people than meets the eye, I think, regardless of where you live.
I originally began the book with what is now chapter three: the morning of a typical work day for Marine, beginning with coffee at her favorite café—where she will discover that a childhood friend has died. Etienne de Bremont’s death again came to me thanks to a friend, who had dragged me to her in-law’s big country house to look for something her husband had misplaced in the attic. It was an antique dealer’s dream: full of gilded mirrors too heavy to move, sets of mismatched porcelain, paintings of seascapes and ancestors leaning against the stone walls. The attic was a perfect setting for a murder (it had a huge, open window, and I pointed out its danger to my friend). We never did find what she was looking for, but that evening I began writing ‘Death at the Château Bremont.’