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by Janice Law
Mysterious Press, December 2013
235 pages
ISBN: 1480436003

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Set in postwar Europe along the Riviera, this dark story of mystery and death has a surprisingly light tone. Acting as the hapless lead detective in this continuing series is the 20th century Irish-born but British-raised Painter Francis Bacon. While Bacon is famous for his enjoyment of gambling halls and café society, it is his witness of a murder outside a London club that sets him on his journey. A man is shot just as he is leaving a London hot spot, and Bacon goes to his side.

After it appears the man has died, the French club owner comes to Bacon in his studio and offers to retire Bacon's not insubstantial gambling debts in exchange for a package to be delivered to the dead man's widow in the South of France. Seeing the opportunity for les bonnes vacances, how can he refuse? Monte Carlo is calling.

Of course, the task is much more complex and dangerous than it first appears. Things get very convoluted, and the action seems to really ratchet up as the ending becomes closer. It's hard to sort out the good guys from the bad, and with several characters, it's hard to determine exactly how they fit into the plotline at all. Most surprising for a genre that prides itself on creating stories that draw together all the loose bits into a neat ending, this one is messy and never completely explained.

That may dismay some readers, but it can also be refreshing, much as is the light-hearted tone of the painter, given his dire circumstances throughout so much of the story. In the book, there is much lore about Bacon (the real artist) slipped in (for example, he lived with his aging nanny throughout his adult life, who appears in the book as his companion). The author has made the artist into a very charming, if inept. sleuth and thus lifted what could have been a very dark storyline and setting, with historical asides into World War II France, into something much more breezy, which appears to be just the right touch.

For those with an interest in art (or even not), there is much pleasure to be derived from THE PRISONER OF THE RIVIERA. Expect the unexpected, and this will be a very enjoyable trip to the Riviera and back.

§ Christine Zibas is a freelance writer and former director of publications for a Chicago nonprofit.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, November 2013

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