Spending time with Peter May's charming and clever Enzo Macleod in Brittany is pure pleasure. In May's fourth installment of the Enzo Files series, the remote Ile de Groix, with its turbulent coast, rough weather, and laconic and secretive residents, tests Macleod intellectually and physically as he attempts to solve a case so cold it's frigid. At the same time, Macleod struggles with a mercurial lover and her life-altering secret.
May establishes his mystery with confidence and carries us toward his final satisfying revelations with sure pacing and adroit storytelling. The story opens in Munich, 1951, as a doctor leaves his wife, children and medical practice behind to disappear into the dark, barely escaping shadowy pursuers. May then carries the reader to Morocco, then Paris, where we meet Macleod, then to Brittany - moving us back and forth in time - until we witness the murder at the center of the narrative.
Twenty years later, Macleod must interpret the clues inside the entomologist murder victim's study, nonsensical messages written on post-it notes stuck in books and taped to the refrigerator and the lamp; a framed poem on the wall hung upside-down; slight and willful disorder among obsessively orderly bookshelves; and a shell-casing without fingerprints. And outside the study, Macleod, an intruder on the island, stirs up old passions in people connected to the murder victim. Among the interesting, well-drawn and often surprising characters are a volatile and violent alcoholic acquitted of the crime but still under suspicion; a charming doctor and his beautiful wife; the victim's lonely and amorous daughter-in-law; and the victim himself - a powerful and confusing presence.
If there's a flaw in Freeze Frame, it's May's occasional awkward overwriting:
"What would she tell him? That Enzo had come knocking at the door, trying to rake over the ashes of the past, and that she had sent him packing? Or having finally lanced the boil that had been slowly poisoning her for twenty years, would she now tell him the truth?"
Still, the truth hidden inside the mystery of Freeze Frame is fascinating and Enzo Macleod is great fun to hang out with. He's a fine guide to the Ile de Groix's history and geography, its food, wine, sea, sky and people. He's satisfyingly smart, too, but not so clever that he becomes remote or inhuman: I especially enjoy it when he solves problems by letting his unconscious mind sort things out, or, when it comes to his own difficulties, can't sort them out them at all.
A note about the series: Though this is the 4th installment in the Enzo Files series, readers should be able to jump right in whether they've read the previous books or not.
Series order to date:
Dry Bones (originally titled Extraordinary People, 2006)
A Vintage Corpse (originally titled The Critic, 2007)
Blacklight Blue (2008)
Freeze Frame (2010).
Publishing in 2011: Blow Back, which will investigate the mysterious death of a three-star Michelin Guide chef.
The title changes for the first two books were explained to BookBrowse by Peter May's editor as follows: "In line with the forensics in the seven-book Enzo series based on a wager that the Scottish scientist can solve seven cold cases presented in a book by Parisian journalist Roger Raffin -- perhaps a ruffian himself -- we have retitled the first two books to fit the concept better. Thus 2006's Extraordinary People is now available in trade paperback as Dry Bones. The Critic is now A Vintage Corpse. Both are available under these titles while the older titles no longer are."
This review is from the April 21, 2010 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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