When novice magistrate Bernard Martin is in charge of law and order in Aix-en-Provence over the sleepy summer holiday, he isn’t expecting much drama. But the fates are busy stirring things up in Barbara Corrado Pope’s Cézanne’s Quarry and a gruesome murder in the ancient quarry at the edge of the village profoundly disturbs the peace. A beautiful young emigre from Paris, Solange Vernet, has been savagely dispatched and Martin and the crude police inspector, Albert Franc, team up to solve the crime.
Solange has been living a rich life in Aix with a self-taught professor of Darwinism and geology whose lectures are not uniformly well-received. Her weekly salons have attracted nearly everyone of note, at least briefly, and the professor’s lectures have sharply divided attendees and by-the-book Christians. One famous resident who falls captive to the salon and its irresistible hostess is Paul Cézanne who paints daily en plein air in and around the quarry. Cézanne lives, impoverished, with his son and longtime mistress in close proximity to his prosperous family who regard him as something of a failure. Everyone in this tale has an ulterior motive and a hidden story and more than a few of those motives and stories are deadly.
I found the first two-thirds of the book lively enough and interesting, if a bit choppy in places. The magistrate is clearly wet behind the ears and very deliberate as he proceeds through witness interrogations and crime scene visits. His insecurities encourage the inspector to ride roughshod over the investigation and to push him around. Martin has fallen under Solange’s spell, as have the Darwin lecturer and the painter, although they enjoyed relationships with her while he admired her from afar. Then a young boy who may have delivered a last note to Solange turns up murdered and it is clear there is some complex plot behind the killings.
The resolution of this story is quite good—and it is memorable. I can say that because it wasn’t until I got to a key piece of evidence, nearly at the end of the book, that I realized I had read it before. Still can’t remember when but likely when the book first came out about four years ago. Odd. I usually catch on right away when I have managed to pick up something I’ve already read. Nothing of this book stuck with me until the very graphic eleventh-hour revelation. So I guess I have to say Cézanne’s Quarry is a decent read with some very original plot features—and that there isn’t anything especially arresting about most of it, although it’s not badly written at all. One observation I did make, even before I discovered I knew the book: the only truly compelling character for me was Solange but she first appears as a corpse and there isn’t enough of her alive throughout the rest of the story to flesh out the impression. Missed opportunity maybe. Her backstory was the most fascinating narrative and it was barely told.
Cezanne’s Quarry: A Mystery Barbara Corrado Pope | Pegasus Books 2008