What a good book! The first paragraph will stay with you right to the very end. Beautifully written, the haunting words from beyond the shallow, undiscovered grave in a field, behind a farm in the tiny village of Messandrierre in the south of France…
The story then begins two years later as Gendarme Jacques Forêt is investigating the disappearance of a young German tourist. He is accustomed to the vast anonymity of Paris, but having been bereaved he now lives and works in the village dealing with feuding farmers and catching poachers but he does care about this little community and his loyalty, tolerance, warmth and kindness make him very likeable. We are lulled into a false sense of security, the author has you smiling and even laughing out loud especially at Jacques’ easy relationship with Junior Gendarme Mancelle, a young local lad he takes under his wing, when suddenly we are flashed a disturbing vision of the past, intriguing, teasing, shocking.
These are real, human characters you come to know. The author tells a good story and she writes beautifully and knowingly so that you often smile at her deliciously witty descriptions recognising traits in both the English and the French who rub along well enough together. The odd couple John and his wife, the chain smoking Clair Sithrez, Jacques’ odious boss Fournier and the mysterious Englishwoman Beth, with whom he has history. Jacques himself is a strong French man who knows his own mind, he has great depth of character and he does not falter in his love for Beth but their love story is complex and their future is always uncertain as she is also dealing with bereavement and betrayal.
Messandrierre is actually a fictional place that author Angela Wren dreamed up, though in her mind she says “it sits beside the RN88, thirty kilometers north east of the city of Mende, the principal city of the Lozère département, a Mountainous area of rugged scenery”. Angela was inspired to write the story when she was travelling in the area and overnight “the weather changed dramatically and the next morning the village where I was staying and the surrounding countryside were covered with snow, so I jotted down a note and that white covering kept my mind exercised until I had formulated the idea of using snow to cover someone’s misdeeds – and the first page of my story was born…”
I really enjoyed this book and did not put it down until I finished. There are times when you are left open mouthed as the plot twists and turns and keeps you engaged until the very end. Jacques Forêt is an experienced, sharp, intuitive detective and this is an excellent story that’s really well told. We are left pondering, just a little, just enough and very much hoping that we shall meet him again!
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