Death and Croissants by Ian Moore (2022)

British ex-pat Richard Ainsworth runs a chambre d’hôte (the French version of a B&B) in the Val de Follet in the Loire Valley. He’s very happy with his mundane life, not engaging with life unless he has to. When he does, it’s usually with his hens. But then a bloody handprint is discovered and one of his guests goes missing. Richard isn’t too disturbed. It’s not really a lot of blood. And old men occasionally wander off don’t they? Unfortunately, his other guest, the very glamorous Valérie d’Orçay, talks bullies him into investigating. He’s not at all sure that getting involved is a good idea. But then someone kills Ava Gardner!

Death and Croissants has a pretty standard premise for a cozy. An attractive couple, each in a bit of a slump. Put them in a charming setting, add some quirky characters for background and clever bits of humor. What more could you want? Well, frankly I want a story that leads somewhere. Not something that wanders aimlessly with the sole point of introducing a lot of “quirky” characters.

Rather than tell the story consistently through the main character, the author chose to change the narrator quite often. Jumping from Richard to Valérie, and sometimes including a couple of the minor characters. The result was an oddly paced narrative which added to the meandering, unfocused feeling of the story.

Instead of emphasizing the mystery, the focus here was on characters and relationships. In lieu of discussions of victims, suspects or clues, we get Richard’s thoughts regarding the other characters, usually via classic movie references. The main characters are likable enough, but they do little to add any real depth to the story. Richard’s role was to provide clever quips and asides, and be pulled along in Valérie’s wake. It is she who has most of the ideas, takes any action, and ultimately solves the mystery. This makes her a much more compelling character. Unfortunately, it is also made perfectly clear that her only motivation is her own boredom.

But why did I involve you? Because you looked so unhappy, maybe that’s why. You looked like you’d given up. Maybe I had a little, too, but you most definitely.

So why should the reader feel motivated if the protagonists aren’t? It’s sad, but Richard’s housekeeper, Madame Tablier, and his hens (Lana Turner, Joan Crawford, and the unlucky Ava Gardner) were by far more compelling as characters.

I kept hoping that something would pull me in and keep me involved. I kept reading, but it never happened. Overall, it just did nothing to engage me. In a word, it was Meh. And by the way, I’m really perturbed that no one ever solved the mystery of who killed Ava Gardner.

Advanced reader copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

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