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by Jill Culiner
Sumach Press, May 2007
230 pages
ISBN: 1894549643

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The narrator of this story is a nameless Canadian woman living in a small French town. An amateur ethnologist and avid observer of village life, she spends her days studying the historical development of Epineux-le-Rainsouin and the impact of modernization on the town’s people and culture. She spends her nights either in the company of her neighbor, a woman of limited honesty named Christelle, or in the arms of her lover, the very married town veterinarian, Jean-Paul.

While she’s always preferred Jean-Paul’s company to that of Christelle, the woman soon learns that her lover is no better than her neighbor when it comes to telling the truth. After Didier Blot, an employee of the village, is found dead in his bathtub, the victim of electrocution by hairdryer, Jean-Paul tells her that his wife had an affair with Didier and was subsequently blackmailed by him.

The vet is worried that letters Chantal wrote to Didier may turn up in his house, thus casting suspicion on him as Didier’s murderer, so he asks her to snoop around town, ask questions of the residents, and generally discover if he’s the focus of a police investigation into Didier’s death.

As a Canadian, the woman is free to ask questions of the locals and simply be thought of as an all too inquisitive foreigner. Answers don’t come easily, though. Gossip aside, there are few reliable facts to go on. But our narrator knows that past events always impact the present, so she digs deeper into both the town’s history and Didier’s personal life. What she learns affects not only the people around her, but also herself in a very personal way.

Jill Culiner has penned a gem of a mystery in SLANDEROUS TONGUE. A resident of both Canada and France, the author has an intimate knowledge of both the locale and the people she describes in her story. She brings her characters to life in a most satisfactory and often droll manner.

This is especially true in the case of the four local women who provide much of the gossip on which the narrator builds her case. They are the kind of women found in every country, those ever-vigilant ladies who observe and judge every aspect of their neighbors’ lives from behind the safety of white curtained windows.

The reader gets a good sense of the protagonist’s growing exasperation with both the people of the town and her fickle lover. Her growing disillusionment with her role as a mistress is brilliantly written, as is the author’s argument that a small town serves simply as a microcosm of the larger world.

SLANDEROUS TONGUE is thoughtfully written to depict the changes wrought on local culture by society’s drive towards modernism, and is the kind of mystery one can only find coming from an independent publisher with the character and credentials of Canada’s Sumach Press. I highly recommend this book for discriminating readers of mystery fiction.

Reviewed by Mary V. Welk, September 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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