Reading is a terrific way to escape the risk of experiencing self sheltering claustrophobia.
Obviously, the opportunity to engage in more reading has been one of the rare benefits we are given during self sheltering, to help prevent the spread of the highly contagious Coronavirus (COVID-19). Nearly all our summer 2020, activities we are accustomed to attending, have been cancelled because of the pandemic. So, we might as well enjoy reading something light and interesting, to lift our spirits.
Therefore, if you happen to be interested in learning about French heritage as portrayed in light fiction, or stories with a historic slant, AND you also happen to enjoy good mysteries, I have three book recommendations to help you select entertaining reads.
Mystery reader enthusiasts will easily become hooked on the French-Canadian writer Louise Penny mysteries. Her series of creative plots are back-dropped with French-Canadian culture. My introduction to Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache novels came to me from the late Muriel Poulin, a Franco-American friend and nursing colleague, from Springvale. In fact, she pre-ordered Penny’s novels as soon as they were announced. Appreciation for the series has been reinforced by my friend Andrea Quaid, a Board member who serves with me on the board of the Franco-American Collection, at the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College.
It’s best to begin reading the Penny mysteries by starting with the first book, “Still Life”. In fact, a good jump start into her series is available in the boxed trilogy of her first novels, also available for electronic readers. Although the lead character Chief Inspector Gamache is a realistic and thoughtful sleuth, his life as a family man is distinctively French-Canadian. In “How the Light Gets In”, the story begins with Christmas in Quebec, so the plot includes descriptions about familiar French-Canadian winter traditions. The experiences will be appreciated by Franco-American readers.
A wonderful mystery series authored by the mother and son duo who write under the name of Charles Todd, are plots typically set in England or British India (The Raj). Therefore, I was especially smitten with the story in “A Cruel Deception”, because the plot is an excellent history mystery set in post World War I France.
“A Cruel Deception” is a Bess Crawford mystery. She is an English nurse and her experiences in the series includes situations encountered while living with her father during his military career as a British officer while in India and in England. She is also challenged by caring for the battle field soldiers in Europe, during World War I. In “A Cruel Deception”, Sister Crawford finds herself in a difficult situation in France, in 1918-19, during the Paris Peace Conference, immediately following the World War I truce to end the fighting in Europe. During the mystery, the reader experiences a walking tour of Paris while the characters search for a missing English military officer. Although the book’s plot is centered on the century old World War I history, in fact, the mystery’s theme is contemporary, because Sister Crawford witnesses the human collateral consequences of war. A value added benefit in the mystery was learning, through the characters, about the ambiguity expressed by the French people about the expectations (or lack thereof) for the highly sensitive armistice negotiations that were hosted in Paris.
Heather Graham’s “The Stalking” is a fun dark mystery with a side bar plot whereby the reader becomes familiar with Louisiana’s and New Orleans’ French history. A recommendation for home bound readers: I borrowed this book on line with my library card. Although paranormal entertainment may not be to everyone’s liking, and they may not want to learn their history via ghosts and human interactions, I enjoyed everything about this book because of the French backdrop behind the characters and the historic nuances in the plot. I am a Heather Graham fan and, in my opinion, The Stalking is one of her best novels. She creates a well written murder mystery that jumps into the plot beginning with the first sentence on the first page. There is suspense, forensic science and, yes, some very entertaining ghosts who are accompanied by real life murdering monsters. Oh, and there’s typical Graham sexual tension aroused with the human characters, but with a happy ending. After all, what kind of a novel with a French cultural twist would be complete without “l’amore”?
Readers will enjoy the French influence in the Penny, Todd and Graham mysteries, but what I have appreciated more than the interesting stories are how I was able to relive travels my husband and I enjoyed when visiting Quebec, France and New Orleans. Possibly, due to the pandemic, those travels may never again be replicated in real time, but they can be remembered during the pleasure of reading stories where the plots rekindle our wonderful memories.