NYPD Detective Max Maguire is something of a disappointment to her French mother, due to her failure to fully embrace the French language and culture. As such she is delighted to help her prepare for a trip to France for friend Chloe's wedding on her family's grand estate in Champagne, near Paris. On her arrival she meets Olivier Chaumont, an examining magistrate who catches her eye as she overcomes the day old break up with her ex-boyfriend. The wedding is a beautiful, stylish affair but the fairytale is abruptly ended when the bride's aunt is found dead. Lea de Saint Pern was beautiful and successful, having taken over the reins of her late husband's champagne company.
Max and Olivier's potential romance is halted in its tracks as they are jolted back into professional mode. Max is refused a formal role in the investigation into her murder but is determined to help, using skills inherited from her well-known detective father. Olivier is also hindered by colleagues with their own agenda and the two soon start collaborating. Max's approach starts unearthing numerous family secrets and the duo compile an ever lengthening list of people with a motive to kill Lea. Their route to finding the killer is punctuated with a Will they, Won't they? romance and fabulous scenery, food and drink.
There was a lot to like about this book. The side of me that likes to learn as I read enjoyed the details about champagne production and the French judicial system. I also loved the setting and the descriptions of food. I've visited France several times and the writing reminded me of places I'd been and I could well imagine the locations in my mind's eye.
There are a lot of characters, and suspects in particular, to keep track of but this was one of those books where I felt myself engaging with the story and trying to figure out whodunnit myself, unlike some books where I find myself feeling very passive about it, happy just to read and be told. The characters backgrounds were so different, from the German businessman hoping to buy Lea's company to the upper class French women. The little details about the mothers of the bride and groom seemed so precise and added greatly to my vision of these people.
Max is a character I warmed to from the start. She's got a hard to please mother, feels like she is living in her father's shadow and hasn't been lucky in love. However she is tough, has great instincts and is good at her job. Olivier, the apparently unflappable Gallic charmer is the perfect foil for Max and their potential romance provides another dimension to the story without taking away from the murder mystery element. My only criticism would be that I felt having learnt quite a lot about the two of them early on I didn't see a lot of character development while the investigation really ramped up. It felt like the characterisation was put to one side while the plot was moved along.
This is a stylish murder mystery with a hint of the sparkle of the Champagne that features so heavily. I'm hoping we'll see Max and Olivier again!
Format: Ebook, ARC, anticipated release 7th August 2012
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
My Rating: 4*