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Murder mystery set in GIVERNY

24th May 2020

Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi, murder mystery set in Giverny. Translated by Shaun Whiteside.Murder mystery set in Giverny

You couldn’t possibly set a novel in Giverny without copious references to Claude Monet, his life and work. and ponder his influence on the village. Delightfully evocative and colourful, Giverny is a character in itself, with all the milling tourists and local characters.

The village ophthalmologist, Jérôme Morval, is found dead with his head face down in the local river. Inspector Laurenç Sérénac arrives on the scene supported by his sidekick Sylvio Bénavides and together, as outsiders, they must unravel the circumstances of what appears to be a rather complex murder.

As the book opens, it almost feels like the start of a fairytale: Three women lived in the village. The first was mean, the second a liar, and the third an egoist. And the story certainly does, on occasion, have an otherworldly feel. But then the ghostly presence of the famous painter is bound to bestow a distinct creative slant on the narrative.

The police investigations and general life in the village are written through the eyes of an elderly woman who lives in the mill. The locals deem that a witch lives there. Then there is Fanette, a determined 11 year old and keen painter, determined to win the prestigious Robinson prize, with a mother who doesn’t listen to her. There is the local teacher with lavender coloured eyes, who catches Sérénac’s eye.

A shoe print by the body is perhaps a clue to the murderer. On the body there is also a card which states “Eleven Years Old. Happy Birthday“, the meaning unclear.  Morval was also a keen collector of art and wanted to add to his collection, perhaps there is something to investigate there. The police inspectors also go on to receive a series of photos, showing him in the company of different young women with a perplexing set of numbers on the reverse. One of those women appears to be the school teacher. Perhaps there is a motive of jealous partner? But things get more complicated when the inspectors discover that there was a similar murder, decades ago.

I must also not forget to mention the dog, Neptune, who roams around the village. He technically belongs to the old woman in the mill but he is happy to accompany any of the villagers on their walks.

This is a well-rounded mystery, that is just imbued with the feel of Monet’s work (you will find out how many – at the latest count – Water Lily paintings Monet is deemed to have created in his nearly 30 years living in the village); and French village life is beautifully depicted. The author also acknowledges at the beginning that he has tried to render the village as exact as possible, so if you are visiting (or indeed have visited) Giverny, then this novel is definitely one to pick up. A well turned mystery created by a very capable author and very well translated by Shaun Whiteside.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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