Phyllis Gobbell may be better known as the co-author of two true-crime books featuring murders in Nashville—A Season of Darkness and An Unfinished Canvas—but she is also a widely published writer of short fiction. So it should be no surprise that her first novel, Pursuit in Provence, is a worthy addition to the cozy-mystery field.
Jordan Mayfield leaves her suitcase on a train in Brussels on the way to Paris. Rushing back to retrieve it, she is helped by a loud Texan, but the suitcase somehow ends up staying on the train. And the Texan shows up again. And again. Then there’s the unfortunate hit-and-run accident near her hotel. Jordan hopes things will calm down after she and her uncle, Alex, travel to village of Fontvieille, which will serve as a base for Alex, a travel writer.
But trouble follows Jordan there as well: her room is ransacked, and she has the feeling she’s being followed. She infers that someone wants her suitcase and will stop at nothing to get it. The only problem is that she doesn’t have it, and even if she did, she has no idea what it might contain that could be so valuable.
Suspects abound. Besides the stalker, there is the owner of the local art museum, who may be a romantic interest, but hints of shady dealings in his past may mean something more sinister. And there is Felicity Blake, a sorority sister of Jordan’s, who along with her obnoxious record-producer husband, keeps showing up as well.
Pursuit in Provence is well-plotted with enough twists to keep readers guessing until the end. And Gobbell has created a likable character in Jordan, a career woman in her fifties who manages a business, five (mostly) adult children, and the beginnings of a new romance with good humor and a little trepidation.
And Gobbell’s descriptions of Provence will cause even the most entrenched couch potato to start dreaming of travel: “Studying the Place de l’Hotel de Ville with an architect’s eye, I could see there was something extraordinary about the scale, the light, the energy when people were added to the traditional space. An accordion player strolled through the square, playing for tips. There were dogs, children, motor scooters, and policemen in blue short-sleeve shirts who may have been keeping the peace, but they appeared as cheerful and relaxed as if they were on holiday. Shops with Parisian fashions, mom-and-pop pizzerias, art galleries, all in the shadow of the fifteenth-century tower on which someone with a lively sense of humor had painted two large eyeballs.”
And even if many of us have to stay home this summer, fans of cozy mysteries will be happy to follow Jordan wherever her next adventure takes her.
Faye Jones, dean of learning resources at Nashville State Community College, writes the Jolly Librarian blog for the college’s Mayfield Library. She earned her doctorate in nineteenth-century literature at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.