With apologies for the slip into scifi fandom, I’m back on form today with a new book review. This one is the follow-up to my previous post “a lovely orchid of a novel” [https://lizaanne42.wordpress.com/2009/06/10/a-lovely-orchid-of-a-novel/]. This is the second book in the series.
Title: The Orchid Shroud
Author: Michelle Wan
Series: Death in the Dordogne
Summary: During her renovations of an ancient baronial manor, Mara Dunn and her workmen discover the mummified corpse of an infant. Wrapped around the child is a shawl embroidered with the elusive orchid that Julian Wood has been searching for. Together Mara and Julian research the family’s history to uncover the child’s and the orchid’s origins. Meanwhile, the countryside seems to be under attack by a werewolf. Could they all be connected?
As with the previous book in the series, Wan’s descriptions of the Dordogne region of southwestern France are lush and darkly real. Her forests, here, seem to envelop the novel’s characters, dragging them into the shadows of the trees, where there is both danger and beauty.
Most of the characters introduced in the first novel make their reappearance here, albeit rather briefly. Having spent significant amounts of time creating and building these people into a community in her first novel, Wan just lets her minor characters be themselves here. Also, Wan introduces several new and well-developed characters, all involved with Christophe de Bonfond and his extended family, their servants, and their ancestors.
Julian and Mara spend time during the story considering themselves and their relationship. These two grow as people. We, as readers, have also learned to trust them, so when Mara is accused by the police of murder, we know she isn’t guilty. Now, they just need to learn to trust one another. There are about 5 levels happening in this novel simultaneously (in no particular order) : 1-the on-again, off-again relationship between Julian and Mara; 2-the investigation into the infant’s death; 3- the hunt for the werewolf (?); 4- the search for the elusive Lady’s Slipper orchid; 5- the historical narrative of Henriette and the De Bonfond/ Verdier family in 1870. Soon, Christophe’s mysterious disappearance becomes a 6th level and implicates him in the series of recent murders.
As before, the narration here is told in third person limited and moves from character to character, as needed by the story. The narration’s primary foci are Julian and Mara, naturally. However, because a certain element of the story is dependant on events in 1870, Wan also provides narration from Henriette’s perspective. This marks a departure from her previous novel, which was all set in the present tense. These glimpses into the past help keep the reader about half a step ahead of our modern characters, and, in fact, provide us with a bit of sastifactory closure that Julian and Mara do not obtain– though they do have the clues to hand. In addition, because of the werewolf murders, Wan includes a certain amount of wolf narration, which simply adds to the uneasy relationship between the real forest and the dangerous woods of the folk tales.
Once again, Wan lays out her mystery’s pieces carefully. All of them are there for the reader, but they do take awhile to piece together. Her red-herrings and misdirections are intriguing, but, as I mentioned before, Wan “plays fair.” She makes your mind work at solving, which is an excellent trait in a mystery writer. In fact, several hours after I finished reading, as I was considering the very ending of the novel, a clue came back to me. It was just a small thing that, at the time, had seemed insignificant, but proves, upon consideration, to crucially point to the infant’s killer. [No, I am not going to tell you– go and read the book.]
Overall, I think the second verse is even better than the first, particularly as there is more happening in this novel. I’m looking forward to reading the third.
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