Cezanne’s Quarry

Cezanne’s Quarry by Barbara Corrado Pope. The basic premise of Pope’s book is that in the summer of 1885 the famous painter Cezanne was a suspect in a murder investigation. He was supposedly unfaithful to his common law wife Hortense with a young woman in Aix-en-Provence, but the affair sours and the woman is found murdered in a nearby quarry. The only other suspect is the woman’s former lover, an Englishman named Westbury whose controversial teachings about Darwinian theories has isolated him within the conservative, provincial community. Due to the summer holiday, the case falls to Bernard Martin, an inexperienced judge who must rely on an older police inspector for assistance. The inspector pushes for a quick resolution to the case in hopes that it will lead to career advancement, but Martin’s personal insecurities and the lack of material evidence pointing to either suspect muddles the proceedings.

Martin is a complex, interesting character and Pope does a thorough job of developing his multi-faceted persona, but he lacks charisma as an investigator. His lack of confidence is annoying at times and he does little to find the key clues to the case, but instead has them handed to him from other participants. Summer in Provence is sultry and slow-paced and Pope captures this feeling quite well, perhaps too well as the book itself drags at times. Pope spends considerable effort on character development, not only of Martin, but of Cezanne, Westbury, the victim and others. However, the mystery lacks complexity with just the two main suspects. I lack the knowledge to tell if her portrayal of the artist is accurate, but it is certainly different to see a real-life figure in the role of suspect rather than the many times that they are supposedly investigating crimes (see Leonardo Da Vinci in The Queen’s Gambit among others).

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