Friday, March 30, 2012

The Dark Side of The Dordogne

                                                Hotel Adlon Kempinski, Berlin. Photo: Panagiotis Fotiadis
             I had read and enjoyed Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. But even the darkest clouds hovering over his English pioneers and their cranky, two-hundred-year-old French farmhouse produce little more than Mistral winds, frozen pipes, and loose roof tiles falling like dandruff. I wanted something darker.
            Then one rainy afternoon while sitting in the luxurious lobby of Berlin’s Hotel Adlon sipping tea I saw my man. The smartly dressed self-absorbed young German who would become Klaus Reiner, the villain of The Paris Directive. He was tall, well-built  and attractive in that insolent Aryan style. Waiting by the elevators, he was going upstairs to what seemed to be an eagerly anticipated appointment. Something in his expression held me—was it his preoccupied sardonic smile? The curious intensity of his inner gaze? In my novel he would be on his way to suite 501 to meet Emile Pellerin and his partner Hubert Blond, and collect perhaps the biggest jackpot of his life.   
            A product of post-unification Germany, Klaus Reiner is a successful businessman with a warped capitalist dream. If Rupert Murdoch could think of buying Manchester United, why couldn’t Reiner own his own team too? He dreams of one day acquiring Bayern Munchen--the most successful football club in the new Germany.  All he needs is enough money. And money is what he earns through his work. Reiner’s metier is murder, his method controlled “accidents” free of all incriminating traces. But in the course of his visit to France, Reiner will discover that the violent way of murder is unexpectedly enjoyable, exciting, even liberating. In Taziac, the businessman-assassin is untethered. Moving beyond his initial target, Reiner will enter a surreal zone without rules, or limits, and become truly scary—even to himself.
          To Inspector Paul Mazarelle, Reiner’s fate may be tied to his own.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Holing Up in Trémolat

 Le Vieux Logis is in the tiny village of Trémolat, a small cozy hotel on the banks of the Dordogne River. An ideal place to hole up while imagining life and events not far away in Taziac. The hotel and grounds are idyllic and the inventive cuisine of the Logis’s restaurant has been called by some “remarkable.” After my first dinner there, I thought so too. Though the foie gras served with champagne at the Élysée had been excellent, the foie gras served with a fig preserve at the Logis was the best I’d ever tasted, ambrosial. The delicious meal was accompanied by a Bergerac dry white-–magic caught  in a bottle. Amazingly, the wine had the same exquisite smell as the pergola grapes in the hotel garden.

Though the Logis doesn’t appear in The Paris Directive, it’s the sort of place the two retired French secret agents in my novel would have loved. Especially Emile Pellerin, who fancies himself a gourmand. In retirement, Pellerin and his friend Hubert Blond are hardly on vacation. They’ve opened a somewhat shady consulting business in Paris. Assignments like the tricky but lucrative one they’ve just received from an old friend at the Foreign Ministry have comfortably supported their expensive tastes. In fact pay much better than their old work at the DGSE. With luck, this new job may even provide enough for the elegant résidence secondaire at the top of their wish list. First, though, they must deal with the man from Berlin. If he’s as difficult as they’ve been told, it won’t be easy.


Enter: The President

One intoxicating autumn afternoon in Paris a few years back, I found myself among a group of  foreign art-world visitors at an Élysée Palace reception.  For me, it was simply a stopover on my way to the Dordogne. The plan, to work on my as yet untitled novel about a French detective. His name Inspector Paul Mazarelle.

Although this visit was brief, not to mention impromptu, it proved memorable. The Salle de Fête--its chairs and flowers gold and wine-red--was festive, lively, and quite crowded when Jacques Chirac, the President of the  Républic made his appearance. A tall poised good-looking man with the voice and gestures of a trained actor, he welcomed his audience, inviting his guests to enjoy their stay. He’d attended ÉNA and been polished by one of France’s most elite graduate schools. He assumed he was charming, and he was right.

I had no idea at the time that he would soon be making a cameo in my new novel. There in the face of a sudden political emergency,  he’d appear grim, tight-lipped, seething--a seemingly different man.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Madame Charpentier's Baguettes

And that this place may thoroughly be thought
            True Paradise, I have the serpent brought.

            In Taziac, the bakery down the gravel-covered road is surrounded by hanging baskets of flowers. You might think it’s a florist shop if not for the partially obscured sign on the front window that says Boulangerie-Patisserie. It’s owned by the white-haired Madame Louise Charpentier. Though she’s become a bit cranky in her old age, during WWII she was a celebrated hero of the Resistance and a Communist in the Maurice Thorez mode. Despite her rhumatisme and being set in her ways, she still makes the best bread in town.
            Inspector Paul Mazarelle, who lives nearby, is one of her good friends. Since the death of his wife, he often drops by in the morning for coffee and a tartelette before going on to work at the commissariat in Bergerac. The Inspector’s dirty breakfast dishes are still on the small table in front when Ben and Judy Reece come in. Everything in the bakery looks and smells wonderful to the two vacationing Americans. But where is everybody? Hearing something against the outside glass, Judy glances up at the scruffy-looking, unshaven young man staring at her through the window and feels a chill. He has the most compelling blue eyes she’s ever seen.

A Town Called Taziac

There’s a drinking song at the start of Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffman that’s hard to forget. It’s about a dwarf with a hump, and a nose that’s coal black…
            “Et ses jambes, ses jambes faisaient clic clac! clic clac! clic clac!
            Voilà, voilà Kleinzach!”
            A catchy name.  Reminding me of the first time I drove through the Dordogne where it seemed all the picturesque villages and towns had a similar “ac” suffix. (Kevin Elstob, in his blog, describes this linguistic curiosity of the region as an echo "of the Roman presence in that part of the world.") There was Ribérac, Plazac, Montbazillac, Fanlac, Saussignac, Tourtoirac, Montignac, Issigeac, Beynac, Beynac-et-Cazenac, Bergerac, and many more. W.S. Gilbert  would have loved that trip. The countryside looked and smelled good too. Lush fields of wild flowers, daffodils, sunflowers.
            The Dordogne River has such an elegant curving stately sweep that it was hard not to be attracted to the region, its castles, and the history that has grown up around them. Later, when I began to write The Paris Directive, I decided to call the village in my novel Taziac. Like so many of the towns mentioned above, I imagined Taziac as still showing signs of its medieval past. The remaining cobbled streets, half-timbered houses, the towered chateaux, and an open market place behind the Gothic church in the main square. A perfect Eden in which to relax and heal urban wounds, sharp words, the tedium of the every day. In short, a vacation paradise for the foreign visitors who will arrive soon after the curtain goes up in The Paris Directive.