Let’s take a summer day, the time of year in which Love & Death in Burgundy takes place, when the region is humming with tourists and vide-greniers. What are they? This free way to spend a Saturday happens when a town chooses a date to hold a flea market. Most of the vendors at the tables set up along the main street are local and not professionals. Everything is old, undoubtedly lived in an attic for decades, and is one of a kind – no mass produced goods. So, let’s follow Katherine, a middle-aged American artist transplanted to the hamlet of Reigny-sur-Canne only to be caught up in the swirl of controversy around a mysterious death, living on a stringent budget, as she indulges in her favorite Burgundian pastime, a day at a vide-grenier 20 kilometers from her village.
Michael, as always, drove at high speed in the old Citroen, flying through unmarked country crossroads, along narrow roads bisecting blooming fields of rapeseed or wheat, past pastures decorated by Burgundy’s famous white Charolais cattle, downshifting when absolutely necessary with a grinding of gears and a lurching motion that Katherine had learned to ignore because there was no point in yelping. She consulted the printed list of flea market dates and towns she held in her lap. “I know it’s here, L’Isle-sur-Serein,” she said as her husband swung off the road and over a little stone bridge. The Serein River ran softly in the summer, dallying among farm properties and through little towns, many of which had been built centuries earlier along the banks.
Sure enough, a fallow field at the edge of town was packed with cars, and a few minutes later the couple began their stroll through town. One of the blessings of the vide-greniers is the low prices on almost everything. And if something is trop cher (too expensive) it is possible to bargain. Since Katherine wanted at least half of what she saw, bargaining was an important skill, one she managed with grace. Here is what she saw that day that she wanted:
- a diminutive doll with a porcelain face, messed up hair and delicate hands, circa 1930 asking 18 euros
- a set of 30 illustrated ‘penny dreadful’ booklets from 1910 entitled “Dick Carter, Le Roi des Detectives” to be had for 8 euros, perhaps because they were a bit crumbly
- a pair of silverplate-handled salad implements that the seller insisted were set with real bone spoon and fork pieces, probably from the 1950s, offered for 25 euros but won for 20
- a white cotton, embroidered baby bonnet slightly torn along the lace edge but too sweet not to get for 3 euros and give to someone’s grandbaby
- a stiff black frock coat, so old the black had become murky, but so small she could wear it for 9 euros
- a set of four dinner plates for 20 euros (got for 18) with hand-painted flowers that were partially erased from years of washing but which were, Katherine felt, remnants of a life that aspired to more than peasantry
She passed on the doll, which she had thought might be a good object to paint, but which turned out to cast only evil glances from its one good eye. Everything else fit nicely into her basket. Her husband insisted on buying a several rusty old tools that bored her completely except that one was a pair of hedge clippers, and she certainly needed those to tame the far edge of the yard. Michael swore (as he often did, sometimes without subsequent proof) that all they needed was a bit of oil to be good as new.
As they were heading back to the car, Katherine flushed with a feeling not unlike Christmas morning, she saw one last table next to which were some rose plants obviously left too long in their pots, scraggly and stubbornly trying to bloom. One was a strange mustardy color, the obvious runt of the seller’s litter. “Michael, look! I must have that, I really must.” And for a measly 12 euros, the rose was hers and would go on to be a star in her garden, as the runts of the litter frequently turn out to be when we love them dearly.
Note: The illustrated penny dreadfuls were actually sent to me as a gift by the American couple that inspired the book, and were accepted eagerly by the Bancroft Library at the University of California as a treasured addition to their collection of crime fiction materials.
You can read more about Katherine in Love & Death in Burgundy, the first book in a village mystery series set in Burgundy, France.
From critically acclaimed author, Susan C. Shea, comes Love & Death in Burgundy, an atmospheric mystery novel filled with good Chablis, french cheese, and, of course, murder.
After three years of living in the small town of Reigny-sur-Canne, all Katherine Goff really wants is to be accepted by her neighbors into their little community. But as an American expat living in the proud region of Burgundy, that’s no easy task.
When the elderly Frenchman who lives in the village chateau is found dead at the bottom of a staircase, the town is turned into a hot bed of gossip and suspicion, and Katherine suddenly finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into the small town’s secrets. A motherless teenager, a malicious French widow, a brash music producer, and a would-be Agatha Christie are among those caught up in a storm that threatens to turn Katherine’s quiet life upside down. As more and more of the villagers’ secrets are brought to light, Katherine must try to figure out who, if anyone, in the town she can trust, and which one of her neighbors just might be a killer.
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About the author
Susan C Shea is the author of the critically praised Dani O’Rourke Mysteries and has begun a new series of village mysteries set in Burgundy, France. Susan is on the national Sisters in Crime board, is a member of the Northern California chapters of SinC and Mystery Writers of America. She lives in Marin County and travels to France whenever she can.
All comments are welcomed.
Love & Death in Burgundy is available at retail and online booksellers or you can ask your local library to get it for you.