a lovely orchid of a novel

Deadly Slipper

Deadly Slipper

Title: Deadly Slipper

Author: Michelle Wan

Series: Death in the Dordogne

Summary: Mara Dunn follows the trail of an elusive series of orchid photographs in order to find her sister, who disappeared years before.  She enlists the help of a local orchidologist, Julian Wood.  Together, they trek through the forests of southern France on the search for clues.

Beautiful novel!  From the first few paragraphs, with their lovely, simple descriptions of the French countryside, I was hooked: “Everywhere the earth is densely clothed in trees, for this is the heart of the Périgord Noir– Black Périgord– named for the darkness of its great forests.  Within their shadow, ancient footpaths wind over root and stone.”  The scenes in which the characters explore the woods, farms, and marshes feel real, as they should.  The author and her husband frequently visit the area, according to her bio (see link at the bottom). 

The narration shifts between third person limited views from most of the major characters, but particularly with Julian and Mara.  We see and hear enough from each character to really like them, but also to still feel suspicious because of some of their actions.  The mystery is compelling, and the local characters who people the novel are well-drawn.  Each one is distinct, interesting, and believable: from the grotesque ‘ogre’ Vrac who lives in the depth of the forest to the very modern psychoanalyst Patsy in New York City. 

My favorite part of this novel is that the clues kept me guessing and thinking.  Using Agatha Christie’s rules for a mystery, the reader should not be able to predict the ending but should have all of the clues necessary to do so.  May’s mystery “plays fair.”  By having Mara receive advice on the mystery from several sources, May brings up suspicions and theories for the reader as well.  She then dishes up her share of red herrings, but all of the clues are there, so by the end of the novel, all of the pieces fit nicely together.  (You will have noticed by now that I’m talking very little about the plot– I’m trying not to ruin it for you.)  Speaking of dishes– her descriptions of food are mouth-watering!

Now, I am a gardener, which is why I picked up this novel in the first place, but I know less than nothing about European ground orchids.  It didn’t matter.  Through the novel, the reader is given quite a thorough, and enjoyable, education into the species, habits, and fascination of these exotic plants.  It didn’t feel forced, either, but, rather, it grew naturally as part of the clues used to solve the mystery.  I like to have learnt something after I have read a novel (which is one reason I enjoyed Lillian Jackson Braun’s early “Cat Who…” novels so much– a shame about what’s happened to them).    After reading this book, I’ll probably check out the orchid section the next time I’m looking for plants for the garden (not that European orchids would grow in Florida, but just for the fun of it).  In addition, May drops French frequently into the dialogue– as the book is set in France, and all.  You don’t have to speak the language to understand the meanings, but I like learning bits of new words and languages.  It’s a nice bonus.

Overall: I’ll be checking out the next book in the series soon!  Well done!

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