A couple of years ago I was delighted to feature 300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson here on Linda’s Book Bag when Deborah wrote all about A Question of Identity. Since then Deborah has been having a bit of a change of identity herself and today I’m so pleased to welcome her back as one half of Serena Kent with her husband Robert Rees!
Staying in with Serena Kent
Deborah Lawrenson and her husband Robert Rees
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Robert and welcome back again Deborah! Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
Thank you for having us, Linda!
Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
Death in Provence. It’s a cosy mystery but also the story of how a middle-aged Englishwoman makes a new life for herself on her own in France. Divorcee Penelope Kite is intelligent and optimistic, and the countryside, the people she meets and her personal circumstances are just as important as the mystery, and serve to deepen her understanding of the region made famous by Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence.
It sounds a delightful read. What can we expect from an evening in with Death in Provence?
Some good laughs, we hope – with an edge of psychological truthfulness and an accurate picture of the Luberon area of Provence, a landscape of perched hill villages, orchards, vineyards and lavender fields. We own a crumbly old farmhouse, similar in some respects, to Penelope Kite’s and know well the joys and pitfalls of owning such a property. Some of the incidents – not the body in pool! – are based on fact, though imaginatively enhanced, naturally.
(I’m quite relieved to hear you haven’t had a body in the pool – yet!)
We’ve been thrilled with the early readers’ reviews like this one on Amazon:
After years at everyone’s beck and call, Penelope Kite’s had enough. She leaves behind her ex-husband, ungrateful adult step-children, and chilly old England to pursue the good life in Provence. Blissfully busy with a beautiful – though dilapidated ‒ new house and a never-ending supply of pain au chocolate, Penelope’s found her paradise … until a dead body turns up in the swimming pool. She must channel skills learned at the Home Office Department of Forensic Pathology to unravel the murderous mysteries of her adoptive French town. And if that’s not enough, attempts on her life, hot flushes and non-existent willpower over the siren call of the local patisserie leave her convinced retirement’s not for sissies.
This humorous and entertaining romp is coloured with delightful Provençal details that will have you booking flights long before the murderer is revealed. Quirky characters abound, like the petitely perfect Madam Valencourt, who avoids croissants like a delivery of anthrax, and Penelope’s larger-than-life best buddy, Frankie, who pours third (fourth? fifth?) glasses of wine with no apology. A drop-dead gorgeous mayor, a secret love and unsettling neighbours add to the fun.
(…)How refreshing, therefore, to meet Penelope Kite; smart and funny with all the strengths and flaws of maturity. She deserves her own book series – as do we, the well beyond thirty-something crowd looking for a relatable laugh.”
(What a smashing response. You must both be thrilled.)
What else have you brought along and why?
Robert: I would bring along a chilled bottle of rosé. There is little better in life than sitting on a vine-covered Provençal terrace while the sun goes down, sipping a glass of cold rosé. Apart maybe from repeating the exercise immediately when the glass is empty. And as with wine, so with food. I could discuss the myriad of French dishes that we love, from bouillabaise to ratatouille, and the happy evenings spent devouring such dishes under the stars with friends. But my single greatest food love comes from a local baker. Simply the most delicious bread in the world – the pain tradition from the Boulangerie St Pierre in Apt.
Rob’s Music Room
For more spiritual pursuits, I would bring my piano and a few special pieces. One or two songs and miniatures of my own composition, as I suffer (along with most performers) with an acute desire to show off (especially after the rosé).
(Sounds like we’re in for an entertaining evening then Rob!)
But also something by Chopin, the greatest of all piano composers, and something by Debussy, Ravel from the host of French genius which flowered at the beginning of the 20th century. Music, and in particular piano, is my greatest passion. My father (a better pianist than I and an amateur composer) inculcated a great love of classical music in me for which I can never thank him enough. He never quite got pop, but for anything before that he was like a walking encyclopedia. He also taught me the greatest lesson in life. Just before the curtain rose on one of the greatest operas, he leaned over and whispered ‘You know, we are terribly lucky to be living in this day and age, aren’t we!’
Deborah: I’d bring some of our collection of candle lanterns, and some of the glass jars we put tea lights in and wire to the fig tree in the courtyard to make the evening feel special. If I could bring the fig tree, too, I would. Especially in that summer phase when the leaves release their sweet, milky, musk-spice scent in the warmth of the sun.
At the end of August, you could even have some of the purple fruit that we and our guests gorge on with goats’ cheese and jambon cru. Also the twenty minutes each evening when the sun’s last rays send red flames up the hillside and turn the rippled mountain russet and indigo.
(I’m not sure I’m inviting you two back. You’re making me so jealous!)
We’d also bring our tales of Provence, the trials and tribulations (no house renovation ever goes quite to plan) as well as the incomparable memories of laughter with friends and outdoor concerts and dancing in village squares under the plane trees.
Oh my goodness. What wonderful photographs. Thank you both so much for being here and staying in with me as Serena Kent. I’ve loved hearing about Death in Provence and having a look at your beautiful home and surroundings. It’s been lovely and has made me want to dive right in to Death in Provence.
Death in Provence
When Penelope Kite swaps her humdrum life in Surrey for a picturesque farmhouse in the south of France, she imagines a simple life of long lunches and chilled rosé . . . What she doesn’t imagine is the dead body floating in her swimming pool.
Convinced that the victim suffered more than a drunken accident, Penelope plunges headlong into local intrigue and long-simmering resentments to uncover the truth.
But with a meddling estate agent, an unfriendly Chief of Police, a suspiciously charming Mayor, and the endless temptation of that second pain au chocolat, life in the delightful village of St Merlot is certainly never simple. . .
Death in Provence is available for purchase through the publisher, Orion’s, links here.
About Serena Kent
Serena Kent has been a journalist, a banker, a music composer and a sheep-shearer – and is also the nom de plume of Deborah Lawrenson and her husband Robert Rees. They live in Kent in a house full of books, and own a ramshackle old farmhouse on the slopes of the Luberon hills in Provence which is also in desperate need of some more bookshelves.
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