Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Killer Critique by Alexander Campion

 If asked, most people who know me well would say that I'm a bit of a "foodie". That is probably one of the reasons why I enjoy the Capucine Culinary mysteries so much. They provide me with the vicarious pleasure of experiencing haute cuisine in a land long reputed to be the be all and end all of cuisine - La Belle France. When it comes down to brass tacks, however, I probably wouldn't eat in the same types of establishments described in the books, nor would I order the courses lovingly depicted.

My tastes are really quite a bit more basic than that. I tend to enjoy a good plate of fresh-baked biscuits and country gravy, or a simple eggs Benedict with freshly made hollandaise, rather than something with a delicate and complex blend of spices; a hearty and bold Albondigas or Basque paiella rather than a consommé simmered to the point of perfection; a savory bacon and lamb fry pie in a country café instead of an elaborate construction of duck a l'orange at Chez Mitterand.

But I digress.

It's rough being a critic. In fact, it's a killer. One by one, the restaurant reviewers are being snuffed out. Some similarities here between this story and 1978's movie Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe perhaps? The first murder yields a short list of suspects when Capucine discovers that the murder weapons was a curare-soaked poison pellet, and that the Brazilian embassy is missing some indigenes' darts after a reception, and the intersection of the guest lists (think Venn diagram, my math-ee friends) is a small set of Paris' celebrities.

One of the suspects is a childhood friend of Capucine's, which makes things a bit complex, and things become more difficult for her when the juge d'instruction on the case forbids her to interview any of these "delicate" witnesses.

Campion coins a nice turn of phrase when he has Capucine's cousin Jacques say that the first victim was "in flagrante critico" and weaves a wonderful word picture describing Jacques' dinner party guests, "They had all whetted their epigrams well and the conversation tintinnabulated like rapiers ringing against each other at a duel." He also introduces a wonderful new character to the mix this time in the person of Vavasseur, a homeless psychiatrist whose "couch" is behind a police barricade on the banks of the Seine.

The murders hit close to home in the first place because the victims are within Capucine's husband Alexandre's circle of friends, and she also fears that he may end up as a victim as a matter of course. In the end, a serial killer is caught, a blackmailer revealed, and Capucine triumphs once more.

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