The Messengers of Death

Written by Patricia Clancy (trans.) Pierre Magnan
Review by Nancy J. Attwell

If you missed the opportunity to spend a week in rural Provence during the 1960s, don’t despair. Instead, set a bottle of French wine before the fire, curl yourself up in an overstuffed chair, and settle in to read this wonderful translation of Pierre Magnan’s literary mystery, The Messengers of Death. You may find it odd, at first, to begin a novel with a description of the postbox on the door of the cemetery in the Basse-Alpes village of Barles. Relax. You are about to be presented with an entire feast of oddities: A murderer who rides around the countryside dressed as a sapeur of the Grande Armée; a butcher who will only open his shop for privileged customers; a victim who throws a bottomless costume party on the night she expects to die; and a detective who is happier lounging amidst his cats than solving a mystery. On the other hand, maybe you won’t be able to relax, for Magnan’s fascinating details include the macabre as well as the peculiar.

Hours before Mademoiselle Veronique is murdered with a rusty bayonet, the beautiful spinster receives a letter bearing the message, “The measure you give will be the measure you get.” Two days later, Veronique’s alluring cousin, Ambroisine, receives an identical letter and suffers a similar fate. Commissaire Laviolette, the retired superintendent who was first introduced to readers in Death in the Truffle Wood, is certain that the key to the murderer’s motive lies in the history of the Melliflore family. As he races to save the lives of the two remaining cousins, Laviolette’s search takes him through three generations of haughty independence and broken relationships to events that shaped the destiny of a family.

Magnan’s style is eclectic, his characters eccentric, his wit electric, and his ending satisfying. Highly recommended.