Title: Montbel (Jacques Forêt Mystery #3)
Author: Angela Wren
Genre: Cosy Crime
A clear-cut case?
A re-examination of a closed police case brings investigator, Jacques Forêt, up against an old adversary. After the murder of a key witness, Jacques finds himself, and his team, being pursued.
When a vital piece of evidence throws a completely different light on Jacques' case, his adversary becomes more aggressive, and Investigating Magistrate Pelletier threatens to sequester all of Jacques papers and shut down the investigation.
Can Jacques find all the answers before Pelletier steps in?
thursday, june 9th
The D6, which stretched eastwards from the main interchange between Mende and Le Puy-en-Velay, sliced the village of Montbel in two as it meandered its way across the high valley to a final junction in La Bastide-Puylaurent. The sign on the wall of the first house on the right announced that the numbered, but nameless, road became Grande Rue at that point. Jacques slowed down and looked to his left and, as described, a long stone barn stood end on to the street. In front of it was a large enclosed area with blackand gold-painted metal fencing set into a low stone wall. Jacques pulled up, removed his helmet and wheeled his motorbike across the road, down the short track in front of the converted barn, and into the beautifully planted front garden. He rested his bike on the steady just inside the main gate and placed his helmet on the seat.
“Monsieur Forêt, I presume?” Étienne Vauclain rose from his patio chair and walked towards Jacques.
“Call me Jacques,” he said as he shook Vauclain’s 16 outstretched hand.
The man was much shorter than Jacques had imagined, his hair, thick and grey, was swept back and expensive dark glasses hid his eyes. Jacques followed him to the patio area and took a seat at the table in the shade.
“Coffee?” Vauclain steadily pushed the plunger of the cafetière to the bottom of the large pot.
“Yes, please.” Jacques glanced past his interviewee and through the open French windows into the house. The windows on the far side of the building were shuttered against the sun, but despite the interior gloom, Jacques could make out a gallery that he assumed ran the full length of the building. Above, he could see the edges of the beams of the roof and within the body of the visible space, comfortable and very fashionable furnishings.
“On the phone yesterday, you said I may be able to help you with some enquiries,” said Vauclain as he pushed a cup and saucer across the table to Jacques.
“I believe you knew a Monsieur Antoine Beaufort.” Jacques flipped open his notebook.
Vauclain frowned and shook his head. “Beaufort? The name seems familiar, but I can’t recall why.”
Jacques sipped his coffee and narrowed his eyes. “Antoine Beaufort, he worked for you as a casual kitchen employee in your restaurant?” He watched him closely.
“Beaufort…” Vauclain removed his sunglasses and placed them on the table. “I remember now. The victim of the restaurant fire. That was…unfortunate.” He shifted back in his chair. “A terrible accident.”
“What can you tell me about Monsieur Beaufort?” “No more than I said during the investigation into the fire and the death. He was known to my chef at the time; he was employed on a casual basis, and I did not know he had been given permission to sleep on the premises whenever he chose.”
Jacques tapped his pen against his notebook and stared at Vauclain. That’s a very pat statement, Monsieur. I wonder how long it took you to get that exactly right. He decided on 17 a different tack.
“I have no interest in the enquiry into the fire. That case has been closed. My current enquiry is about the man himself: where he was, who he met, where he worked. I have been retained to find out what his history was, up to the date of his death.”
Vauclain shrugged. “I see. And again, I’m not sure I can help you.”
Jacques took a sip of his coffee and smiled. “Perhaps we can start with some facts. Can you tell me how long Beaufort worked for you?”
“Not precisely,” he said. “I kept all the employment records in the office at the restaurant, and they were destroyed. I think Beaufort first visited the restaurant asking for work in May…End of May beginning of June, when I wasn’t hiring. He came back a couple of weeks later, and it was the chef who hired him. I think that was at the end of June or very beginning of July.”
“Whilst he was employed by you, did he work every day?”
“I can’t be sure of that without the records. I know he had no skills and was just used to wash up, clean up and for general prep, that’s all.”
“General prep means what?”
“Washing and peeling vegetables, fetching and carrying, menial tasks to support all of the kitchen staff.”
“So, as far as you know, he was never used to wait on tables or anything else?”
“As I said, he had no skills. He’d also been living rough, and it would not have been appropriate to employ him in any other capacity.”
Jacques drained his coffee cup, replaced it, pushed the saucer to one side and looked Vauclain straight in the eye. “One last question. Your chef at the time, can you tell me where he is now?”
“Mende. He lives and works in Mende at the Hôtel Claustres. He’s Head Chef there.”
“Thank you. I’ll see myself out.” Jacques rose, put his notebook away and, with a nod to Vauclain, strode down the path back to his bike. As he put his helmet on, something reflected in one of the mirrors on the bike caught his eye. Jacques, astride the machine, rocked it from its steady and stared at the right-hand mirror. He watched as Vauclain took out his phone and placed a call. I wonder what that conversation is all about and what you’re not telling me, Monsieur Vauclain. The bike’s engine roared, and he moved down the track towards the road.
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Awarding the book 5* a reviewer on Goodreads said 'This series is really getting into its stride, with a mystery surrounding a former cold case for gendarme-turned-investigator Jacques Forêt,' who finds himself under menacing pusuit from local villains. She goes on to say that she is 'looking forward to the next in the series, set against the atmospheric backdrop of the Cévennes and its main town, Mende.'
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Angela Wren is an actor and director at a small theatre a few miles from where she lives in the county of Yorkshire in the UK. She worked as a project and business change manager – very pressured and very demanding – but she managed to escape, and now she writes books.
She has always loved stories and story-telling, so it seemed a natural progression, to her, to try her hand at writing, starting with short stories. Her first published story was in an anthology, which was put together by the magazine ‘Ireland’s Own’ in 2011. She also works with 8 other northern writers to create the series of Miss Moonshine anthologies. Most recently, Angela contributed a story set in the 19th century to the DARK LONDON collection.
Angela particularly enjoys the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work. Her short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery, and historical. She also writes comic flash-fiction and has drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio.
Her full-length novels are set in France, where she likes to spend as much time as possible each year.
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