French fine dining

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Published: December 4, 2016 6:05:50 AM

Michel Bussi’s cracking mystery is set in Monet’s village Giverny

FRENCH AUTHOR Michel Bussi takes readers to the sleepy town of Giverny, the home of Impressionist painter Oscar-Claude Monet, in his aptly titled new book, Black Water Lilies. Monet painted several versions of the lilies in the pond right outside his house, spending his later years painting nothing else.

The village is described as quiet and sleepy, but its residents are anything but that. The serene surroundings fail to quell the usual human fallacies that they nurture. Ambition, jealousy, possessiveness, adultery, lies and even murder fester in the tiny houses on the beautiful streets.

The story begins with the murder of a local ophthalmologist, who is found with his skull smashed in the river that runs through the village. A new police inspector takes up the case, but soon realises that he is merely on a wild goose chase. What is the secret that he fails to uncover? Who really are the three women who are so central to the mystery—from the talented 11-year-old Fanette and the seductive school teacher to the old hag who lives alone in the mill and is never really noticed by the villagers, but doesn’t let anything slip her eyes?

From Monet’s life and his painting career to lost paintings, talent contests and budding artists, the world of pastels and easels is central to the plot. Or, so it seems.

Bussi successfully sends his readers up the wrong path several times, and even if you suspect the truth, he foxes readers by overlapping timelines, so that you never really confirm your suspicions. In the end, the truth is obviously simple, but leaves you stumped nevertheless. Not with its clarity, but the complexity of human emotions and the extent to which our desires can drive us.

The book is not only a cracker of a mystery, it is also a brilliant portrayal of Giverny with its cinematic prose. Bussi manages to pull off yet another compelling read that is satisfying in every sense of the word.

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