The Mystery of the Lost Cezanne: A Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery. M. L. Longworth. Penguin Mystery Original. September 2015. 320 pp. ISBN#: 9780143128076.
“He couldn’t help walking. He loved it: it took him places where nature’s shapes showed him what to put on the canvas.” This, then, is the magic and inspiration that can be seen in every painting by this artist who was early in his career jeered at, ignored and rejected. Color always blended into the objects and nature behind each scene, a technique that some saw as a kind of Impressionistic style but which seemed to go far beyond that artistic school. One painting that was rather unusual color is the object of the mystery within this novel, a portrait of a woman who lived in Aix, France and who seemed dynamically alive in color and facial features in a way that was not evident in any of Cezanne’s other paintings.
The story begins with the relationships of our main characters, Antoine Verlaque, a Magistrate Justice, and his girlfriend and friends. He loves his life in this small city of Aix, the place where Cezanne worked and painted. The residents appreciate art because of this connection and also have an especial love for certain foods that are so well-described herein that one can taste their delicious components and smell their delightful fragrance, such as the “gallettes des rois.”
Now a friend in Verlaque’s cigar club asks him to visit Rene Rouquet who seems highly excited about a canvas that he has found rolled up in his apartment which was once owned by Cezanne. When Verlaque arrives, he finds a stranger art history professor standing over Rene’s dead body and there is no canvas to be found. So begins the complex mystery that Verlaque and his friend and investigator, Bonnet, pursue.
The mystery involves the beautiful art history professor, a woman who looks like a beautiful fashion model, who always seems to appear where she is least expected and is always dressed in a style that defies her academic salary. It also concerns a former art auctioneer who claims a Cezanne painting that is found is really a very good fake copy. A man reputed to be a mobster also has an eclectic but very expensive art collection. And finally there will be another death associated with the art of Cezanne that is now worth millions of Euros.
Interspersed within this mystery are chapters in which Cezanne meets a very special lady who fully appreciates the forms and intentions in his paintings, a woman who makes him relax and who truly understands his expression of beauty and form in nature and all who blend into its presence.
The Mystery of the Lost Cezanne… is a fine read that never gets ahead of its quest. Verlaque and Bonnet get along and are more than highly capable of detecting clues that the average person would miss but take time to connect motivations and connections that will reveal the surprise discovery of who is really the guilty party! In the process our heroes will grow to appreciate the loved ones in their own lives – an unexpected but delightful addition to the central puzzle herein!
Fine mystery reading that lovers of this genre will find intriguing and highly enjoyable! Nicely done, M. L. Longworth!