Tuesday, June 4, 2013

M. L. Longworth's "Death in the Vines"

M. L. Longworth has written for The Washington Post, The Times (London), The Independent, and Bon Appétit magazine. She is the author of a mystery series set in Southern France, the Verlaque and Bonnet Provençal Mysteries, published by Penguin USA. The books include Death at the Château Bremont, Murder in the Rue Dumas, and the newly released Death in the Vines.

Longworth has lived full-time in France for over fifteen years and divides her time between Aix-en-Provence, where she writes, and Paris, where she teaches writing at New York University's Paris campus.

Here the author dreamcasts an adaptation of the series:
When I began writing the first book, Marine Bonnet (law professor) and Antoine Verlaque (examining magistrate) were working on their relationship, and having a hard time of it, while trying to solve a mystery together. I wasn’t even sure if their relationship would make it. Now, as the third book has just been released, and I’m in the middle of the fourth book, they have evolved into a couple (although not married; yet) and appear to be quite happy. And so for my fantasy film I have in my head a strong couple—but not portrayed by film stars of today, many of whom I wouldn’t recognize if I passed them on Aix-en-Provence’s main street—but a screen duo from the 1930s: William Powell and  Myrna Loy.

The Thin Man, made in 1934 by director WS Van Dyke, after Dashiell Hammett’s book, brings to life the gin-soaked 1930s and 40s. Amateur sleuths Nick (retired private detective) and Nora (heiress) Charles were attractive, wealthy, fashionable, and intelligent. Marine and Antoine are all of those things, too (although in my version, it’s Antoine Verlaque with the family money, and he’s slightly overweight). Nick and Nora became a beloved screen couple largely because of their quick wit and loving banter; it’s something that has been inspiring me as I write the fourth book. But is that swift repartee—like multiple martinis before dinner—also of another era? I’d like to think not.

In our Puritanical 21st century the Charles’ multiple martinis are no longer de rigueur, but Marine and Antoine live in France, so they love to eat well and drink fine wines, probably too much for some readers: a modern version of Nick and Nora’s, yes, privileged life. If we travel back in time when we watch a Thin Man film, enthralled by Nora’s designer silk gowns, the jazz, and the endless champagne, then I’d like to transport the reader in that same way, across the ocean to contemporary Aix-en-Provence, where there are still designer clothes (although Marine is much too modest and practical to be a fashion victim), contemporary jazz, and lots of champagne.

The late film critic Roger Ebert said of the Thin Man films: “And there is a kind of grace in the way the 6-foot Powell hovers protectively over the 5-6 Loy (or sometimes simply leans as if blown in her direction).” A wonderful sentence, for it sums up how Powell, with a simple gesture, conveyed Nick’s love for Nora. Antoine and Marine have had their ups and downs, but they are now a couple; and just like Nick and Nora, it’s as natural as if they’d been blown together by Provence’s wind.

Postscript: Director Rob Marshall is planning a Thin Man remake, starring Johnny Depp. The actress who will play Nora has yet to be announced.
Learn more about the books and author at M. L. Longworth's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in the Rue Dumas.

Writers Read: M. L. Longworth.

--Marshal Zeringue