Witness from the Café
A dead man, face-down in a croissant in a bustling Parisian café, takes center stage in the opening pages of Witness From The Café, Gini Anding’s latest novel in her Witness series featuring Amy Page – newspaper columnist, cookbook author, and American transplant from South Carolina. Equal parts mystery, thriller, travelogue, and history lesson, Witness From The Café is sunny and bright, despite its dark premise, a breezy read with a storyline that often stretches credibility but still manages to deliver.
Anding’s impressive pedigree – she’s a former professor of French literature – makes her uniquely qualified to craft a tale of intrigue and suspense set against the gorgeous backdrop of the Ile Saint-Louis, an island in the Seine River that functions as a slow-paced historical oasis in the heart of bustling Paris. It is here that Amy Page, recently married to Jean-Michel Jolivet, a former inspector for the French Police and director of the International Bureau of Security, whiles away her days working on articles exploring food and French culture. She is seated at table 5 with the interpretive culture center committee in the Café du Coin when one of the members, a retired general, drops dead in front of the eleven others. They quickly realize the general’s death was no accident – he was the victim of poisoning by a cyanide-laced sugar cube – and as the murder investigation kicks into gear, it is discovered that the general wasn’t even the intended target.
The premise is intriguing, but after a promising start, Witness falters. It’s more of a “why-dunnit” than a “who-dunnit” as the murderer is identified early on. Anding piles on layers to beef up the plot – a network of retired spies, South American drug lords, double agents, hired assassins, and the search for an elusive miracle plant that cures the craving for opiates – yet, despite the extra padding, the story feels rather slim (and in fact, only clocks in at 147 pages). Where Anding excels is in her attention to detail; her lovingly precise descriptions of the Ile Saint-Louis explode off the page, painting a picture of historical charm that immerses the reader in the setting. Fun, too, are the little factual nuggets on food, culture, and fashion that she weaves effortlessly into the story through her protagonist’s research – the origin of crepes Suzette, for instance. Her main characters are fully fleshed out (almost too much so, as we struggle occasionally to follow the family tree), and the language is both spare and elegant, flowing easily between English and the occasional French. Those who enjoy a mixture of romance and less-edgy mystery will be drawn into the carefully constructed world that Anding has created, and want to seek out the other books in the Witness series.
Witness From The Café is clearly a labor of love, and as the final pages hint, not yet the end of the series. With a new mystery to solve in a more provincial setting, it will be interesting to see where Amy Page finds herself next.
|Page Count||147 pages|
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|Category||Mystery, Crime & Thriller|