The city of Aix-en-Provence in southern France recently celebrated the centennial of the death of Paul Cézanne, an artist often called the father of modern art. In honor of this anniversary, Pope has written a literary murder mystery set in 1885, during the midyears of Cézanne’s career.
The body of the beautiful and mysterious Solange Vernet has been found in the Bibemus quarry outside of Aix, a location where Cézanne frequently paints. The chief of police, Albert Franc, is convinced that the murderer is the victim’s lover, Darwinian scholar Charles Westbury. But the investigating magistrate, Bernard Martin, considers Cézanne a prime suspect. Martin’s suspicions deepen after he discovers a series of Cézanne’s early works, which depict the stabbing and strangulation of women who look eerily like the victim.
An enjoyable read from start to finish, Cézanne’s Quarry is a masterpiece itself, deftly intermingling diverse subjects such as art, politics (of the Third Republic), love, the meaning of friendship, and the relationship between science and religion. Before her death, Vernet, along with Westbury, had sponsored a weekly salon where a select circle gathered to discuss the issues of the day. Westbury explains to Martin: “…you feel it necessary to reject not only the Church but any semblance of religious feeling… Solange and I were striving for middle ground where science and religion, and men and women, could truly meet.” As Martin continues his investigation, he becomes aware that he, himself, is an outsider, and he is filled with longing to find a place where he can belong. Unfortunately, the more he delves for answers––and the more secrets he uncovers––the more he doubts himself. This is a novel that I highly recommend.