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by Peter May
Poisoned Pen Press, March 2011
278 pages
ISBN: 159058841X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Enzo McLeod, son of a Scottish father and an Italian mother, is a former forensic scientist, living in France as a university professor. As the result of a wager, he's investigating eight French cold cases. This book is the fifth instalment in the series. In it he looks into the death of a renowned French chef holding three Michelin stars, and we see something more of Enzo's complicated life. Though this is the fifth book in a series, Peter May gives enough backstory to make it possible to enjoy reading this novel without having sampled the other four.

Seven years ago, chef Marc Fraysse was found murdered in a hut near his renowned auberge in the hills near St Etienne. His wife, Elisabeth, and his brother, Guy, who dealt with business issues while Marc cooked, have continued with great success running the first class restaurant. Georges, former second in command, is now the first chef and his wife, who was the master's lover, handles the receptions in the hotel. Those may be the suspects to which we may add a restaurant critic who had a long feud with Fraysse and a shady bookie who handled the chef's betting on horses.

With the help of a lovely gendarme, Dominique, for whom Fraysse was her first (and only) murder case and of his daughter Sophie, Enzo begins to unravel the events of the past. Though he is a scientist, I must say that he relies on talking with people, assessing them and prodding a bit in the right direction than he does on physical evidence. He gets also much food for thought from the notes for an autobiography which he lifts from Fraysse's computer. It seems that he's more interested in characters than in facts. And he goes in the right way, as some suspicious accidents might attest.

There are parallel lines in the lives of detective and victim: both had a conflicted relationship with their families. It might be called dysfunctional though in fact it seems that the lovers and the kids function for Enzo, maybe because he cares deeply about them. In the chef's writing and in Enzo's memories there are similar themes of sibling rivalry. Though both men are different Enzo can find in his life the threads to understand Fraysse's motives.

The plot is simple and the resolution neat. The interesting characters are done in short paragraphs but with meat enough to engage us, not only those important to the plot but also some at the edges, like the suspicious gardener or the Michelin rater who quit a plum job because he's grown sick of food.

The setting is superb: the mountains of the Massif Centrale in November, on the eve of terrible snowstorms like the one at the end of the novel. Sometimes the cold felt by Enzo made me uncomfortable. And he travels a lot, mostly to Paris, for personal and professional reasons, always feeling cold and sometimes drenched by much rain and snow. Some of the best scenes are perhaps those in which food and drink are tasted by Enzo who has a connoisseur's palate. They show that the author knows and loves good cuisine. Sometimes, the delicate descriptions made my mouth water. Anyone who enjoys good food and a good mystery will find much to their taste here.

Susy Puggioli is a retired literature professor who was born and lives in Argentina.

Reviewed by Susy Puggioli, February 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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