Alistair Townsend is a retired expat living the high-life in Nice with his vacuous girl-bride Tamsin. Ostensibly admired by the long-term residents of the city, he has also made a few enemies with his manipulative behaviour, not to mention silver-tongued gossip. At his wife’s birthday party, he suddenly buckles over and dies whilst eating escargots from his own snail farm. The only guest with the presence of mind to call an ambulance and the police is Cait Morgan. She’s a criminology professor from the University of Vancouver and occasional consultant to the Canadian police. Cait was attending a conference in Nice and found herself invited to Alistair’s party almost by accident. Once an employee of the old man, she wasn’t fond of his underhand ways and is soon one of the main suspects in the eyes of the French police.
Can the sprightly amateur detective clear her name and uncover the real killer before there is another corpse? To complicate matters further, the priceless (but supposedly cursed) Celtic necklace Alistair bought as a birthday present for his wife has also disappeared. A break-in at the museum, links to a Nazi past and secret underground cellars all complicate Cait’s life, and the investigation.
This is very like an Agatha Christie locked room mystery which will appeal to fans of classic crime fiction. One of the people present at the dinner party must have committed the murder, and it soon emerges that each participant has something to hide. Each suspect is vividly-drawn, and the author manages to avoid clichés. The elderly woman with the mysterious past, the gloomy gardener, the American thriller writer, the self-absorbed and not-quite-grieving widow, and the flirtatious, unreliable Italian museum director – whodunnit?
The greatest joy of the book is the narrator herself, the middle-aged Welsh-Canadian heroine, with a fine line in tart remarks and accurate social observations. With her photographic memory and intuitive crime-solving skills, Cait Morgan becomes quite an asset to the police in Nice. She is certainly no hardboiled detective, but a delightfully chatty observer, with a weakness for fine food and charming men.
The side-plot and ending involving Cait’s detective friend back in Canada could have been a little less lengthy. However, I really enjoyed the sharply-observed cultural interactions between the French and the expat community. For readers who enjoy a classic cozy puzzle, this is a truly delightful romp set on the Côte d’Azure. With lashings of good food and fine wines, plus a strong-minded, quirky main character, The Corpse with the Silver Tongue is an enjoyable introduction to what promises to be an intriguing new series.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars