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 Valerie, persuades a reluctant Richard to join her in investigating the disappearance. Richard remains a dazed passenger in the case until things become really serious and someone murders Ava Gardner, one of his beloved hens … and you don’t mess with a fellow’s hens!
Thank you to NetGalley and Farrago Books for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.
What can one say about a book that has more than ten comments under the ‘Praise for’ section on Waterstones.com? Hopefully I will dredge up something new, but I will agree with the general tone of those comments, and that is that Death and Croissants is brilliantly good fun. It will inevitably be compared to Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club due to timing, style, the cover, and the authors both being TV personalities, but Ian Moore holds his own. He may be riding Osman’s wave, but he does so with style. Death and Croissants has everything I love in a mystery book: a slightly ridiculous yet compelling crime to solve, a quaint setting that hides something more sinister, humour, and a great cast of characters. I think, without good characters, all the other points still wouldn’t hold up the story as well, so it’s lucky that Moore has created quite a cast for his debut.
First there’s Richard Ainsworth, a middle-aged Englishman running a B&B in France, looking at a future as a bachelor after his marriage has come undone. The only things bringing joy to Richard’s life are his pet hens, and his vast knowledge and love for old cinema. He has the typical self-deprecating humour of the English, and a lot of the story involves him trying to find his place in all this chaos, and his character arc is really quite lovely.
‘He had seen hundreds of films where one man tails another, yet it was sadly, and very swiftly, clear to Richard that none of the finesse or techniques of such an enterprise had rubbed off on him.’
Next up is the classic femme fatale, Valérie d’Orçay; she is a guest at Richard’s B&B, and when she learns of a bloody handprint in the room of an elderly gentleman who seems to have disappeared, she insists on investigating, pulling poor Richard along. She is something of a mystery, and both Richard and I, as the reader, felt deeply suspicious of her while inevitably being pulled along by her enthusiasm, charm, and knowledge. The dynamic between her and Richard is great fun to read, and you can’t help but cheer them both on, even when one or the other does something questionable.
Last, but not least, is Madame Tablier, the cleaner at Richard’s B&B, with a mean tongue and an imposing presence. She will leave everything spotless, but grumble as she does it, and I love the touch of her name; Tablier means ‘apron’ in French. She is more of a side character, but I loved the energy she brings to the story, and I hope that future books will hold a greater role for her.
There are, of course, other characters, but I feel that introducing them all might spoil the fun of meeting them on the page, but I must say they all come together to create the perfect murder mystery, and there was even the classic moment at the end, where everyone is present for the great reveal of the culprit, but with an interesting twist!
The other thing I really loved about this story was the backdrop. As a European living in England, it’s amusing to see it the other way round, and though I am not French, I appreciated the way the author made good-natured digs at the differences in culture, and from what I’ve experienced it’s quite spot on. I particularly like the recurring theme of French characters lamenting a member of their family moving away, only for the reader to discover they’ve only moved a town over, but for rural France it’s like going to another country. My only complaint is that the Italians didn’t come out of this book with a great reputation, but as it made for an entertaining story, I shall let it slide!
Overall, a great read, and a perfect book to sit out in the sunshine with!
Published: 1st July 2021 by Farrago Books
Genre: Fiction, Mysteries & Thrillers
Series: Follet Valley Mysteries, book one
Narration style: third person past tense
Format read: eARC
Warnings: moderate descriptions of animal death, murder, and mentions of sexual content