The final City by the Book from my most recent trip takes us to Aix-en-Provence, a city my travel companion knew well, but that I didn’t know at all. Well, it’s much easier to get to know a city in two days when a) you have a private tour guide and b) you have a book as brilliant as M L Longworth’s Death at the Chateau Bremont. The book is actually the first in a series of provençal murder mysteries, all set in and around Aix-en-Provence. And I don’t mean loosely, I was recognising street names and restaurants all over the place thanks to Longworth’s book.
I’m not a huge murder mystery reader, but living with my dad means that exposure to it is inevitable, so I’m always pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy them. The series has the usual cryptic detective, Antoine Verlaque, who is clearly not handling some unknown inner turmoil, but refreshingly, he is joined by university professor Marine Bonnet.
When we first hit cours Mirabeau in the daylight, Aix’s iconic street, my friend felt like something was different — the trees. The street wasn’t how she remembered it, lined with trees so densely that they formed a cover over the street itself. A few hours later, I think we might have been in Parc Jourdan, I read the following passage in Longworth’s book.
“One hundred years ago double rows of plane trees had been planted on both sides of the street, and by the summer they would shade the sidewalks and the street itself. But the cours had been in a state of construction, or “decontruction,” as Slyvie, Marine’s best friend, a photographer and art historian, liked to say. No sooner was the top of the street completed than the workmen would start jack-hammering the bottom, and then someone at city hall would change his or her mind and the bottom would be hurridedly finished so the construction team could tear up the newly finished work at the top.” — M L Longworth, Death at the Chateau Bremont
It’s not a particularly happy anecdote, but isn’t it nice when a novel can fill in the blanks on why a landmark, plastered on every postcard and fridge magnet, looks so completely different?
Books like Death at the Chateau Bremont are why I like writing the City by the Book blogs — it can transform how you experience a trip. It was also really easy for me to find thanks to the Aix Centric blog, which has a list of books set in Aix — I wish it was as easy for every city! The same blog also has a post about the tree situation, find it here.
I expect I’ll read some more of the Verlaque and Bonnet series, but I almost want to wait until I can visit Aix again — reading becomes an even more immersive experience when you get to read a book in the city in which it’s set.