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French Ghost by @corinnelabalme is a Book Series Starter pick #cozymystery #cozy #booklove #giveaway
Title: French Ghost
Author: Corinne LaBalme
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Ghost-writer Melody Layne is stranded in Paris when the over-sexed but unloved French movie star who hired her to produce his memoir dies before the interviews begin. It’s a major financial relief when his enigmatic Spanish son re-hires her, but the seductive Carlos Ortega is strangely silent about his reasons for funding a feel-good bio about a father that he clearly despised. There's enough romance in the air for Melody to ignore this apparent paradox… at least until she uncovers a hidden cache of very personal death threats addressed to the actor. Some of them were mailed from Madrid…
Charles-Henri Banville’s funeral was a box-office smash. Sobbing movie fans from around the world gathered at Père Lachaise, Paris’s A-List cemetery, to bid adieu to the man formerly known as France’s greatest living actor. Police helicopters whirred above the ornate tombstones while tough young men in dark suits and mirrored glasses patrolled makeshift barriers that kept reporters, paparazzi and TV crews at bay.
By contrast, the small but select group of VIPs inside the stone-cold crematorium chapel required no crowd control. In fact, this crowd controlled itself very well. None of these dry-eyed celebrities had racked up any florist bills either. Only one lonely wreath of carnations adorned the casket, and it bore the dutiful banner of the French Actors’ Union.
I didn’t connect the heavy-set brunette in the front row with Delphine Carroll, the once waifish pop princess who won the 1979 Eurovision song contest, until she turned around and batted her eyes at the pallbearers, barely concealing her glee at outliving her ex-husband. The equally cheerful Yorkshire terrier peeking out of her handbag chewed happily on a squeaky rubber toy.
Swedish supermodel Ingrid Svenson occupied the opposite pew, flanked by two towering Scandinavian teenagers who might, or might not, be Charles-Henri's twin sons. Charles-Henri always denied it, and his fancy legal team had blocked any meaningful child-support ever since their birth. Nope, Ingrid didn't look especially bereft either.
By the time the priest got the show on the road, my own prayers were directed to the patron saint of antifreeze. My feet had frozen into icicles long before the altar boys started swinging the incense. When I'd packed my open-toe sandals for April in Paris, I sure hadn't planned on cooling my heels in a frigid French mausoleum.
I stared enviously at the fleece-lined boots worn by the redhead across the aisle who was tapping away at her cellphone. That was Jenna Bardet, the Franco-American VJ whose cable career nose-dived after she slapped Charles-Henri with a sexual harassment suit. Unlike me, she hadn’t bothered to dress up. Warm and comfortable in corduroy pants and a down jacket, she caught my inquiring eye and flashed her phone at me. Candy Crush. She winked and got back to her game.
I reached into my purse for my own phone when something sharp and hard smacked the back of my neck. I turned around. A rumpled, balding guy with a bland, forgettable face - Charles-Henri's former impresario, Marius Dubrovski – used the downtime to clip his nails. Charles-Henri made a neater job of it when he cut Marius out of the profits from his first major movie deal. I edged further down the pew to escape the shrapnel.
I’d never met any of these people in person, but after eight weeks of non-stop research, I could update their Wikipedia entries in my sleep. I even knew the people who were conspicuous by their absence, like drug-challenged starlet Charlene Trent, the dead actor’s last major lust interest, whose LAPD ankle-bracelet was keeping her anchored in Malibu.
There were people I didn't recognize, but not many. I’m a detail-driven Virgo but there’s no way I could have tracked down every dermatologist or dog-walker the actor ever met in his private life. Thankfully for researchers like me, stars as big as Charles-Henri don’t have much private life. Messy details about his love affairs, arrests for public indecency, and on-set tantrums were all public record.
The pastor droned on about heavenly peace, a sermon that didn’t seem too pertinent given that Banville, if true to form, was probably starting a bar-fight in Hell. Since I didn’t understand most of the long French words or care about learning them, I let my eyes wander aimlessly around the chapel. Then something – or rather someone – made me sit up straight and pay attention.
Tall, dark and sexy standing in the back row. This guy was so gorgeous he could make a gargoyle drool. Longish black hair, piercing ebony eyes and chiseled cheekbones that he must have borrowed from Christian Bale and forgotten to return. At his side, a veiled woman in a wheelchair clutched a single blood-red rose. Evidently, neither of them wanted to get up-close-and-personal with the corpse since there were plenty of empty seats in the orchestra section.
The tableau was bizarrely hot and gothic but that’s not what caught my attention. It was the expression on the man’s face. In a room filled with people ready to dance a samba and uncork the champagne, he was the only funeral guest who looked appropriately upset. Not in the 'emotionally devastated' sense of the word. More like he was royally pissed-off at something.
I could sympathize with that sentiment because I felt the same way. I had no idea why the incredible hunk was throwing a hissy fit but I had a very valid reason for my own nasty mood.
That’s because I’m Banville’s ghost-writer. When the undertakers shove his casket into the furnace, my career is going along for the ride.
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Think of French Ghost as a zipless fantasy vacation. Wander the romantic streets of the Left Bank, dine at fancy restaurants in Normandy and sip Champagne at the Cannes Film Festival, all without leaving your armchair. (Hopefully, you won’t trip over the bodies of dead movie stars as often as Melody does.) However, you just might meet a handsome – but complicated! – half-French Latin lover like Carlos Ortega. And there’s a sequel! French Toast – release April 2024 – draws Melody into the cut-throat world of French haute cuisine when she ghost-writes a memoir/cookbook for celebrity chef who’s dealing with some suspiciously nasty poison problems in his posh Parisian restaurant. (She also learns a bit more about Carlos…)
Enter to win a $40 Amazon gift card:
Open Internationally. You must have a valid Amazon US or Amazon Canada account to win.
Runs January 10 – January 18, 2023.
Winner will be drawn on January 19, 2023.
Corinne LaBalme lives in France and loves everything about it… except eating snails. Her articles about European fashion, food and fun destinations have appeared in The New York Times travel section, Diversion, La Belle France and France Revisited. Her favorite place to write? Any Parisian café with a good croissant connection…
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