R.M. Cartmel,
The Richebourg Affair
(Crime Scene Books, 2014)

The Richebourg Affair is a well-paced, complex mystery set in the hereditary vineyards of France. In many ways it's akin to a "cozy," but the more leisurely pacing and the more thoughtful development of both people and the plot balance that out. (I like some cozies! But they do tend toward the superficial, and this one is deeper than that, while still being solidly in the mystery genre.)

Although this is apparently R.M. Cartmel's first novel, it doesn't read like one. There's backstory hinted at but not made explicit -- to the point that I was ready to search out No. 1 in the series! I admire that -- so often, a first book starts off all on its own; this one has history with the protagonist, his family, his co-workers, various friends and relations ... all skillfully handled.

The plot is intricate and fascinating, in the sense that one learns a lot about the regulations regarding French wines, and how they can be twisted into fraud. There are interesting looks into World War II and various student rebellions, too. At the end, while WHAT happened became clear, WHY is left to various hypothesis, which seems realistic to me.

The characterization is wonderfully well done. Everyone in this book felt alive. The plot is maybe a bit over-complex, but it does pretty much make sense, and takes us into all sorts of non-obvious territory.

I enjoyed this book a lot! And I'd recommend it to anyone who likes a leisurely-paced mystery, with interesting characters and setting, and a plot that works well with both.

book review by
Amanda Fisher

4 October 2014

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