Too often, I find myself nodding off in front of the plethora of shows streaming on TV. Most of them are desperately bad, and aimed at a viewership seven generations later than my own baby boomer sensibilities. I usually end by turning off the TV to invigorate myself with a book.
But Murder in Provence, a new three-episode Brit Box original mystery series based on the novels by the Canadian author M.L. Longworth, who has lived in Aix-en-Provence for 25 years, seems to have been made just for me. It’s set in Aix, a drop-dead gorgeous town I once considered living in. Its cast are all middle aged or older. The lead, investigative judge, Antoine Verlaque, is played with laconic charm by 68-year-old British actor Roger Allam—I would say effortless charm, but part of Allam’s appeal is that he burns a lot of calories moving around with a considerable paunch. His girlfriend/partner, Marine Bonnet, is played by the slim-as-a-bluebell British theater and television actress, Nancy Carroll, considerably younger than he at 48, though she looks pleasantly older than her years here. Verlaque and Bonnet spend a lot of time cooking, eating, drinking from large goblets of wine, interviewing suspects in cafés, and chasing villains through vineyards and old Provençal farmhouses. When we occasionally see them in bed, Marine is reading a book and Verlaque is returning from the bathroom complaining about the amount of time he has to spend there due to his enlarged prostate.
Each of the three 90-minute episodes is a separate story that follows a classic whodunit structure. Someone gets killed. Verlaque and Bonnet are notified while they are drinking wine and preparing dinner in his beautiful apartment, or about to set off for a weekend in a boutique hotel in the Lubéron. Traveling in Verlaque’s classic 60s era Citroën DS, they quickly head off through beautifully drone-photographed Provence to meet suspects and witnesses in brasseries or inside magazine-spread houses, eat some more, confer with friends or les flics (police) and then eat some more…
By then, I’ve forgotten who was murdered, and, invariably, I don’t care. The characters, apart from our overfed gourmand hosts, are ciphers. I’m just soaking in the ambience and castigating myself for not having moved to Aix. The murder is solved, eventually, during a leisurely round of meals and sightseeing, and Verlaque and Bonnet return to his apartment to sum up what has happened for us and themselves while he is decanting a thirty-year-old brandy.
A strikingly peculiar charm of this riveting series is that every character is played by British actors who make no pretense at being French. They have French names and they live in this perfectly imagined landscape. But they look, sound and dress as if they are visiting the Chelsea Flower show in summer. Allam’s way with a bottle, deliberate and knowing, is quite English, in fact.
But if you want a 90-minute Provençal vacay that delivers with the stunning beauty of a high definition screensaver, this may be your cup of tea.
Peter Nichols is the author of 6 books of fiction and nonfiction, including the bestsellers, The Rocks and A Voyage for Madmen. He lives in Maine.