DEATH IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE
Allison & Busby £6.99 pbk
Reviewed by Donna Moore
The glamourous city of Cannes is gearing up for the annual film festival, and the arrival of the beautiful, rich, and famous. Behind the sanitised facade, something far uglier is occurring.
Cecile Galant, the new examining magistrate, is faced with a case which seems far more suited to her native Marseilles. A serial killer known in the Press as the Cannes Mutilator has so far claimed four victims. There are no patterns and no obvious connections. The victims are both male and female, local and tourist, and of different backgrounds. The only similarity is that they all appear to have been murdered with the same weapon.
In a seemingly unrelated case, nineteen year old Rosie Cashel is strangled in the garden of her Cannes home. Although Rosies half-brother Charlie Cashel hasnt seen her for many years, he is horrified and disturbed by her death. Three months later the murder remains unsolved and Cashel is back home in England. He receives a roll of undeveloped film which has been posted from Cannes. When he has it developed, theres only one photograph on the whole roll and he decides to travel to Cannes to find out who sent the film, and why, and hopefully shed some light on the murder of Rosie.
This is an atmospheric and evocative book. The sense of place is excellent, with the different aspects of Cannes set out in a wonderfully descriptive manner. The brilliant blue skies and glossy exterior of the elegant city are in stark contrast to the crime, drugs, racism and fear that stalk the poorer quarters. This is a side of Cannes that the festival-goers never see, and which the authorities try to hide from the outside world.
The plot was intriguing with the two cases running alongside each other, occasionally converging, or becoming more distanced, as investigations progress.
My only quibble was with the characterisation. Although the characters are well drawn on the whole, they never became real for me. I was always conscious that I was one step removed - I never felt part of their world, or wanted to know them better. Even those who should have been sympathetic were restrained and unapproachable. The book had the same impact on me as those by Barbara Vine or Frances Fyfield - I appreciated the writing but was happy to come to the end and leave behind the characters who peopled the pages.