Interview and review/ M.L. Longworth

Greg Salvatori Photography
Welcome M. L. Longworth to the garden today! Everyone is in for a real treat today. M. L. writes cozy mysteries for Penguin books and today we're hearing all about M. L. and her new book Death in the Vines~~A Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery. Everyone knows the drill, fill your plates with goodies and let's get started. First here is a bit about M. L. Longworth.

I was born in Toronto in 1963. I went to university in Toronto in the early 80s (York, Fine Arts) and have fond memories of listening to Handsome Ned at the Cameron House, or seeing Jeff Healy play at Grossman’s Sunday evening jam. It’s still a great city and I love the fact that you can stroll up Ossington Avenue on a Sunday and see live jazz in a small bar.

We try to get back to Canada once a year; sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. One of my favorite places in Ontario is southern Bruce County, especially the rolling green hills and perfectly tended gardens of the (mostly) cattle farmers up there. It’s where most of my cousins still live. At the last O’Hagan family reunion we had 425 attendees. And then there’s a magical lake in the Kawartha’s, where my cousin Joe has a cottage. I can’t tell you the name of the lake, because I want it to stay idyllic, and Joe would kill me.

I married my husband in 1989, we bought an old orange van, and drove across the USA, settling in northern California three weeks before the Loma Prieta earthquake that fall. My husband found a job in IT, I went back to school, and we lived in a great old Spanish apartment building—the kind you often see in movies about 1930s Los Angeles—in downtown San Jose. After two years we moved ‘over the mountain’ to Santa Cruz, had a baby in 1993, and stayed there until that fateful day when I was playing around on that thing called the Internet and typed in ‘France-Computers-Jobs.’

I had a few questions for M. L.. But first I'm sure everyone needs a little break. Why don't you refill your plates. Ready? Okay, now for the interview.

Mary: So is it safe to say that you left Santa Cruz and never looked back? Was it hard as you thought to leave family and friends?

M. L.: Leaving Santa Cruz was a really hard decision. When my husband was offered the job in France, we were on vacation, and we weren't ready to leave California. We thought that my husband would go for the interview, ask a few questions, get a feel for French working conditions and salaries, etc. Two days after the interview he was offered the job, and we finished our holiday (he looks ill in the remainder of our holiday photos) and we had three weeks back in Santa Cruz to decide.

Santa Cruz is a town where many people decide to leave their birth states to go and live in, not a place where people leave by choice. We were conscious that we were doing the opposite of what most people do. Saying goodbye to our friends was heart wrenching; I still keep track with a few via Facebook and every so oftenI get that tinge of….'oh, I miss Santa Cruz.' But we're happy with our decision, and have no plans of ever returning to the U.S. or Canada.

Mary: What is the biggest difference in the cultures from Toronto, California, and France? And what are the similarities?

M. L.: Although Canadians would hate for me to say this, there wasn't that much difference between Canada and the U.S. Both countries (and Toronto and Santa Cruz) are full of wonderfully kind people. But, the differences between those places and France are much bigger. We live in the south of France, were people are generally more outgoing and gregarious than in the north, so in that way it's similar to California. And the bounty of the fruit and vegetables and wine is comparable, too.

The French tend to be more pessimistic; that is very different from the California attitude, especially in Silicon Valley, where optimism and risk taking are valued. On the other hand, the French have stricter social customs than Californians, and that is something I really like. It wasn't hard to adapt to at all. Once, when walking down the street in Aix, two teenage girls walked by, both eating a slice of pizza while they walked. An old lady walked past them and stopped in her tracks and said, very loudly, 'Bon app├ętit!' She looked at me and shrugged and shuffled on, mumbling to herself. Now, when I visit my daughter in London, and I see people eating in the streets, I want to do the same thing!

Mary: On your Web site you mention that you started writing essays and they evolved into a book written in long hand no less. Can you give us an idea of how you came up with your stories?

M. L.: I wanted to write a novel, but the idea just seemed so vast. I thought that if chose a genre, like mysteries, that would give me some parameters to work from: someone is killed, a hero and/or heroine try to find the killer, and then the murderer is caught. I love the puzzle, too, that a mystery author must develop.

I knew that my protagonists would be a couple, not some brooding , single, policeman (although I love Morse, and Wallander). In my head I had Nick and Nora from the 1930s films The Thin Man; my couple would be intellectual equals and love to chide each other, but would also have some rough patches in their relationship (unlike Nick and Nora). In the end I hope that all will work out between Verlaque and Marine. We'll see!

My lawyer friends in Aix told me that examining magistrates hold the highest power in France, so it was fun to build Antoine Verlaque around that image of someone with a lot of power. Marine was trickier, but one day, after I had started the book, I slipped across the street from our apartment to chat with a friend, Jo, who owned a clothing store. Her sister came in; she was tall and beautiful, with curly auburn hair, and laughed with us as she tried on clothes, convinced that nothing looked good on her (everything did). After she left, Jo told me that her sister was a law professor, and that became Marine. Then, in the same week, I found the setting for 'Death at the Chateau Bremont': I was visiting the attic of another girlfriend's parents-in-law. It was a treasure trove; hundreds of years of cast off antiques that their noble ancestors had shoved into a vast attic. The attic had a large, open, window, and I pointed out the danger to my friend. "Oh, they're all used to it," she answered. And presto, I had my murder locale: a young nobleman would fall from an attic window.

Penguin Books
A crime wave jolts Aix-en-Provence in the third delightful Verlaque and Bonnet mystery.

Fans of Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri, mystery lovers, Francophiles, and foodies will adore this who-done-it with a beautiful European setting. In her riveting follow-up to Death at the Chateau Bremont and Murder in the Rue Dumas, M. L. Longworth evokes the sights and sounds of late-summer Provence, where the mistral blows and death comes in the most unexpected places.

Olivier Bonnard, the owner of Domaine Beauclaire winery, is devastated when he discovers the theft of a priceless cache of rare vintages. Soon after, Monsieur Gilles d’Arras reports that his wife, Pauline, has vanished from their lavish apartment. As Judge Antoine Verlaque and Commissioner Paulik tackle the case (with a little help from Marine Bonnet), they receive an urgent call: Bonnard has just found Madame d’Arras—dead in his vineyard.

I had not read anything of Ms. Longworth's before Death in the Vines~~A Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery. When I was asked if I would like to do a review, well... They had me at Vines and because I write suspense, Death sealed the deal. I was unaware it was an actual series of mysteries. For me the first few chapters were a bit confusing because so many characters were introduced, along with a few crimes. I wasn't sure who the primary characters were, or how the crimes connected. Next time I need to do my homework before I read something.

But Ms. Longworth's saved the day as the story progressed everything was brought together. The characters are well written and strong. The French setting held my interest throughout. I would recommend that if you do read this book first, that you maybe read the blurbs from the first two.

You'll enjoy the visit to France while reading. Right from the first I wanted to climb in and sit around with Oliveir Bonnard and Jean-Jacques Clergue's and sample some wines. Then later I found a new cheese, pouligny-Saint-Pierre, I am going to try along with a nice French wine.

So pick up a copy here and enjoy!


stanalei said…
Wow! Great interview ladies. And the book/series sounds fascinating. Thanks for sharing.
estetik said…
Jake said…
Thanks for referral. Have added to TBR list. Long hot summer so should have time to read.

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