Last week, I shared a book review about a historical fiction story I recently read. While I was reading that book on my Kindle, I was also reading A Provencal Mystery by Ann Elwood on my iPhone. A Provencal Mystery is a completely different kind of historical mystery.
This story, set primarily in 1990’s France, jumps between time periods in history to tell a story that contains Catholic religion and academic ritual in a manner that isn’t nearly so boring as it sounds. The story focuses on Pandora – Dory – an American woman who began studying history after returning to college as a non-traditional story who is now struggling to earn tenure at a college that has a history department steeped in the old-boys-club. As she is researching the recruitment of nuns in French convents – oh so exciting, I’m sure – she stumbled upon an old diary that details strange happenings in a 17th Century convent.
Dory wants history to come alive again and the mysterious diary does this for her. However, history becomes a little too real when one of her closest confidants in France is murdered. What ensues is a mystery that spans from the 1650’s, to the 1940’s during the Holocaust, to the more recent present as Dory tries to determine whether the strange diary has anything to do with her friend’s death.
Admittedly, I did struggle to keep up with the names, places, and random French phrases in this book. If you are looking for an easy read that doesn’t require any thought, I would recommend you try something else. However, if you like something that makes you think – something that combines genres, none of which are light reading – this book is a must read. While there are clues throughout, I really was at a loss until the very end on what tied the stories together and who was the villain. This would be a wonderful read for a book club looking for something completely different to try.
As someone who fancies herself an academic, I also appreciated Elwood’s ability to bring history to life through her characters and story lines. Through Dory’s quest to understand herself as a historian, something as dry as convent history is brought to life for the reader. I finished this book while sipping a glass of wine and nibbling on some cheese… the perfect read for a blustery winter evening.