witty | escapist | spirited | warm-hearted | great fun
what it says on the cover …
The disappearance of a guest is one thing, but you don’t mess with a fellow’s hens!
Richard is a middle-aged Englishman who runs a B&B in the fictional Val de Follet in the Loire Valley. Nothing ever happens to Richard, and really that’s the way he likes it.
One day, however, one of his older guests disappears, leaving behind a bloody handprint on the wallpaper. Another guest, the enigmatic Valérie, persuades a sceptical Richard to join her in investigating the disappearance, revealing a world of mafia crime, nudist colonies, and fowl play.
PUBLISHED: 1st July 2021
SHELF: Mystery | Crime | Humour
AUTHOR: Ian Moore
PUBLISHER: Farrago Books
FORMATS: Kindle | Hardback
my review …
Death & Croissants is a light-hearted, satyrical whodunit, set in a scenic French town where you immediately get the sense that anything can, and probably will, happen. It’s a fond homage to a corner of France that nurtures eccentricity, embraces local legends, and keeps modernity at arms length.
The author, Ian Moore, is a very successful and, fortunately very funny comedian who upped-sticks and moved to the Loire Valley to run a B&B, and his fondness for his new ex-pat life infuses the story from start to finish. In his protagonist, Richard Ainsworth, the author has created a warm, engaging lead, whose desire for the quiet life (somewhere peaceful and uninterrupted to indulge his love of golden age movies, and to add the occasional paragraph to his stuttering novel) is under constant threat from the women around him. His estranged wife Clare, and frankly awful daughter Alicia perpetually undermine his creaky self confidence. Madame Tablier, the truculent housekeeper of his B&B, can deftly overwhelm him with a single glare. And then there’s the charismatic and exquisitely impulsive Valérie d’Orçay, with her quintessentially French dog, Passepartout, and her breakneck yellow sports car. Even Richard’s beloved chickens seem to contribute to his perpetual air of long-suffering, slightly bewildered, stalwart.
How had it come to this? Richard Ainsworth, scourge of international organised crime and staunch defender of the victims of assassination? He wore his glasses on a string around his neck, for God’s sakes.
Unlike Richard, Valérie d’Orçay embraces life at full-throttle, so when a bloodied handprint is found on the wall of a missing guest’s bedroom, she sweeps Richard out of his somnolent comfort zone, straight into the path of the mafia, bounty hunters, swinging-fetishists, and a detective who lubricates his interrogations with a glass of pastis. This cast of quirky characters meander through the plot, popping up in Richard and Valérie’s madcap investigations with mysterious shadiness. Some are perfectly at home in the beautiful Follet Valley town, whilst others stick out like proverbial sore thumbs.
It would be negligent of me not to mention the furry and feathery characters of the book. From Valérie’s pampered tea-cup sized dog who’s rarely seen outside his Louis Vuitton carrier, to Richard’s somewhat earthier – albeit extravagantly named – clutch of chickens, the author beautifully invokes the depth of feeling that can exist between man and beast. They may have been heavily anthropomorphised, but they all share a distinctly sardonic and derisory outlook – mostly directed at Richard – contributing brilliantly to the fun and foibles of this particular story.
The hens eyed Richard suspiciously, their heads cocked to one side in unison like synchronised swimmers but without the fixed smile. Lana Turner and Joan Crawford had stopped fighting and were now wondering what was going on; why were they being fed at this time of day? They never got fed at this time of day/ The third of their group, Ava Gardner, was in the coop loudly producing, more loudly than usual in fact, as though, despite always being the most enthusiastic layer, she was lamenting at missing out on something.
Narrated entirely by Richard, he creates an ex-pat vision of France that many a Brit might cherish and share, whilst good-naturedly defending his own outmoded ideals and very particular brand of nuttiness. Under his guidance, the story flows all too easily and before I knew it, the last page was being turned.
I found Death & Croissants an altogether entertaining caper, that raised many a chuckle. The madcap story sets off at a brisk pace from the very opening chapter, with characters and suspects being introduced from the outset … so be sure to pay attention. I delighted in the author’s use of vanishingly old-school expressions which seemed intended to both raise a laugh and add to Richard’s discombobulation; ‘nincompoop’ being a particular favourite.
The further I was drawn into this spirited book, the more I was reminded of Louis de Bernière’s delightfully nostalgic novel, Nothwithstanding and, contrastingly, Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island. By the time I finished the book the characters felt as warm and familiar as if I’d been watching their escapades in person … from a parasol-shaded table outside the eponymous Chez Bruno bistro sipping a glass of pastis.
What makes me very happy indeed is that this is the first in the author’s new murder mystery series. Death à la Cuisine sees the return of the mismatched ménage à deux, Richard and Valérie. For those who can’t wait for it’s as-yet unconfirmed publication date, there’s a superb prequel to Death & Croissants on the author’s website (see link in author bio, below) intriguingly titled, The Case of the Beached Mermaid.
Thank you to Rob Wilding and Farrago Books for sending me an ARC of Death & Croissants in return for an impartial review.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my honest review of this book.
If this book sounds like one you’d love to read too, here’s a selection of purchase links:
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Ian Moore is a leading stand-up comedian, known for his sharp, entertaining punditry. He has performed all over the world, on every continent except South America. A TV/radio regular, he stars in Dave’s satirical TV show Unspun, and Channel 5’s topical comedy, Big Mouths.
Like his protagonist in Death & Croissants, Ian runs a B&B in the Loire Valley, France, commuting back to the UK every week. In his spare time he makes chutneys and jams.
He is also the author of two memoirs on life in France contrasting with life on the road in the UK. À la Mod: My So-Called Tranquil Family Life in Rural France and C’est Modnifique: Adventures of an English Grump in Rural France.
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