Murder in Lascaux
November 28, 2011
Not many people get to enter the cave of Lascaux these days—the cavern that contains the world’s most famous prehistoric paintings, vivid depictions of bulls, horses, stags and other animals, has been closed to the public for years. Some time ago, when five people a day were still allowed in, Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden, an American couple who teach at the University of Wisconsin but spend their summers in Périgord, toured the cave and were so impressed that they wove their memories of it into this entertaining murder mystery.
The couple had already collaborated on a memoir, A Castle in the Backyard: The Dream of a House in France (University of Wisconsin Press, 2002). That book combines an account of their discovery and purchase of a small stone house in Périgord with a travel book on the Dordogne Valley, its castles, cuisine, prehistoric art and walking trails.
In Murder in Lascaux, their first novel, they weave together their knowledge and love of the region, its history and prehistory, art and gastronomy, to create a lively setting for an enjoyable whodunit. Art historian Nora Barnes and her husband, antique dealer Toby Sandler, kick off their vacation in the Dordogne with a tour of the Lascaux cave—a tour that ends abruptly when one of the other visitors is murdered. Finding themselves suspects, they determine to find the real culprit, pursuing their own investigation while attending cooking classes at the château where they are staying. Meanwhile, Nora is also conducting research on an obscure woman painter who is an ancestor of the cooking teacher (and château’s part owner), Marianne de Cazelle.
Some fascinating French history—and prehistory—is layered into the plot, including Cro-Magnon artists, the 13th-century religious sect of the Cathars, 19th-century French painters and the turbulent era of the Occupation during World War II. The cooking classes evoke the delicious tastes and aromas of the Dordogne—magret de canard, foie gras and walnut cake, to say nothing of the wines—and the class excursions, coupled with the amateur sleuths’ investigations, take them to picturesque villages and natural sites, local cafés and restaurants, and even a lively regional festival. Skillfully blending a travelogue with an intriguing mystery, Draine and Hinden have produced a debut novel that many readers will hope is the first of a series.
Murder in Lascaux, by Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden. Terrace Books, 2011. $14.95
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