Death in Provence is a new novel from author Serena Kent. Death in Provence is Serena Kent's debut novel and is also the first novel in the “Penelope Kite” series. The novel focuses on an retired Englishwoman and young-at-heart divorcee with a knack for stumbling across dead bodies.
Death in Provence introduces Penelope Kite, a 50-something Englishwoman. For years, Penelope put her unfaithful ex-husband, David, and her ungrateful stepchildren, Justin and Lena, first. She has also been an unpaid babysitter and chauffeur for her grandchildren. Now, Penelope has taken early retirement from her job in forensics at the Home Office in London. Deciding to do something for herself, Penelope buys an old stone farmhouse in the Luberon valley of Provence, a region in southeastern France.
Located in the (fictional) village of St. Merlot, the farmhouse, named “Le Chant d’Eau” (The Song of Water), is an impulse buy because it needs major renovations, although it does have a garden, a swimming pool, and sweeping mountain vistas. Penelope moves in and starts her new adventure, but she did not think her new life would begin with her finding a corpse in her swimming pool.
Now, Penelope must navigate colorful French locals, like her realtor Mme. Clémence Valencourt; dashing Mayor Laurent Millais; disdainful Chief of Police Georges Reyssens and Inspector Paul Gamelin; and mysterious neighbor, the farmer Pierre Louchard, to name a few. Thankfully, Penelope's oldest friend, Frances Turner-Blake a.k.a. Frankie, is just a flight away. She will need Frankie. The answers to this crime are buried in the unique culture and shadowy history of both the village of St. Merlot and in Penelope's beloved, but troubled new home, “Le Chant d’Eau,”
THE LOWDOWN: Readers who enjoy mystery novels in the tradition of Agatha Christie will like Death in Provence. It reminds me of those Hallmark Movies & Mysteries (HMM) made-for-television mystery movies that feature intrepid professional women who play sleuth and amateur detective on the side. Regular HMM viewers are familiar with such television movie series as the “Garage Sale Mysteries” and the “Morning Show Mysteries,” so I think that this new Serena Kent novel will also seem familiar to HMM viewers.
Death in Provence could also be an installment of the classic cozy mystery series, “Murder, She Wrote.” In fact, when I think about it, Serena Kent may be offering a modern, British update of Jessica Fletcher, the star of “Murder, She Wrote,” an American character played by Angela Lansbury, the London-born actress who also has American citizenship.
I like Penelope Kent. No, she is not Sara Paretsky's rough-and-tumble V.I. Warshawski, but Penelope does her thing. Her resourcefulness, even when she is flustered, helps to make Death in Provence a delightful read, imbued with the color of Provence, the character of its eccentric citizens, and the flavor of its foods and wines (which puts Penelope at war with her weight). Readers should not be fooled, as Death in Provence can be surprisingly edgy in spots. This is a story of murder most foul, after all.
So the Penelope Kite series is off to a good start, and I think the series will find an identity as we see Penelope Kite take on more killers and more colorful characters. For now, Death in Provence demands that you find a cozy corner and delight your mystery lover's imagination.
I READS YOU RECOMMENDS: Fans of novels from the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction” will find a lighthearted take on those books in Death in Provence.