Monday, December 2, 2013

The Grave Gourmet by Alexander Campion

 The Grave Gourmet is one of those mystery novels that foodies like me, as well as Francophiles, are going to love. Capucine is a young member of the Police Judiciare in Paris who has up to this point been relegated because of her family background and education to investigating financial crimes, and she really really wants to be a "real" flic, investigating murders, robberies and such.

Her husband, Alexandre, is a noted food critic in Paris, so when a murder takes place in a three star restaurant, the commissaire reluctantly decides to assign her to the case, since his main homicide detective is off at a conference in Nice, and her "in" with the restaurant crowd might make this an open and shut case, quickly solved. The victim is the president of Renault, and the probability slowly emerges that his death had something to do with industrial espionage. Fortunately, Capucine also has a cousin, Jacques, who works at the DGSE, one of France's intelligence agencies, who can guide her through that murky world, if she can ignore his feigned? lecherous advances.

We get fun descriptions of menu items like "Hand's version of a BLT-Batavia lettuce, watercress, heirloom tomatoes, and grilled pancetta on a brioche roll delicately anointed with balsamic mayonnaise" and Jacques' sartorial splendor in "a brilliantly striped Turnbull and Asser shirt that fit his torso so perfectly it could only have been made to measure, gold cuff links in the shape of decorative nautical knots, and a solid navy blue tie of rough silk transfixed by a gold hunting pin"or a "cashmere and lamb's wool-blend suit from Lavin and bespoke John Lobb shoes from an Hermes atelier".

I even had to look up a vocabulary word for the first time in a while, and now I know what a "solecism" is, though there was enough context to keep moving along in with the gist of things - I just like to expand my horizons every so often.

Reminiscent of Peter Mayle's mysteries, we get a wonderful sense of French culture, though they tend not to be the sort of story where you are provided the clues at the beginning, and are slowly led to the conclusion, as in the Sherlock Holmes stories, but are perhaps more like a true investigation that meanders gradually around the landscape, eventually flowing to a conclusion that's not too unbelievable.

Campion's first Capucine novel is followed by Crime Fraiche and Death of a Chef, which I hope will be just as savory as this tale.

No comments: