Books & Reading, Writing & Life

This post originally appeared on the blog Mystery Fanfare, a website of Mystery Readers.org, thanks to the support of Janet Rudolph

The Winery of His Dreams

Pinch me: Just like that, the Bennett Sisters Mystery series has been going strong for thirteen years already, starting in 2009 with Blackbird Fly. Sometimes it’s hard to believe. It’s humbling that readers still want to explore the world with the five sisters and their partners— and for me to come up with new and delicious adventures for them. It’s not always easy, which may explain why I’ve written two stories now featuring Pascal d’Onscon. He is middle sister Merle’s partner. As a member of law enforcement in France, he has access to the best things. 

By which I mean criminals, of course.

I am writing fiction, I tell myself. Anything goes, as long as you can sell it properly to the reader. I can involve my five lawyers in any and all sorts of legal issues, secrets and lies and sketchy characters. But I do try to keep things on a somewhat realistic level. So far I have dealt with squatters, wine scams, drug deals, art theft, runaway dogs, and of course a bit of bloody murder. Stumbling over dead bodies in every book stretches credulity at times, especially if your characters are civilians. The five sisters are in various stages of midlife and are professional women, attorneys, not detectives. 

Are my books cozies? Yes and no. They aren’t the typical cozy and yet they aren’t gritty either. I have been known to call them ‘women’s suspense’ which doesn’t actually exist as a sub-genre. International crime? Sure… but… You decide, reader. And, please, tell me your verdict.

The problem I faced with the latest novel, Château des Corbeaux (Castle of Ravens— #17 in the series), is that I have given my wine fraud detective, Pascal, an office job in Bordeaux. (What was I thinking? That this would create tension for him, what he needs to do versus what he wants to do? So that worked.) He works for the Republic’s agency that keeps wineries honest, assures that the grapes are from the proper AOC, honoring all rules and regulations the French have for their sacred nectar. Plenty of money in French wine, thus plenty of wine crime to go around.

In the 2020 book, the first starring Pascal, he is summoned to the Champagne region to investigate a bottle of still white wine with a Champagne producer’s label, a vigneron travesty. (There is no point in still wine if you have grapes growing in the proper Champagne AOC. Make bubbly and make money is the implied motto.) That book, Dead Flat, also chronicled Pascal’s dilemma about whether to accept a promotion in the agency. By Château he is out of field work and into the office, renting a smelly apartment, and hating every minute of that illustrious French invention called bureaucracy.

His dissatisfaction with office work bubbles up in his mind as the idea emerges of owning a vineyard of his own. The desire grabs Pascal— being back on the soil, feeling the terroir, the grape on his tongue, the sun on his face. Although he has never been a farmer and in the past disparaged them as being prey to the whims of weather, markets, and a hundred other things, the idea blossoms into an obsession when he spies an abandoned vineyard seemingly waiting for his loving attention. 

Thus begins his struggle to become a vintner. Not an easy one for Pascal— one day discouragement and resignation that it will never come to pass because he is too poor to buy a Bordeaux vineyard. (They are often priced in the multi-millions and he is, as he often says, a simple public servant.) The next day a glimmer of hope with strapped owners needing a cash infusion. And then, a death in the vineyard to upset all dreams. 

The beautiful countryside of France is again a character in the story, providing spectacular imagery, delicious recipes, and rich history. The rolling hillsides planted with undulating rows of vines, dotted with the turrets of châteaux. Wide rivers flowing to the sea. Quaint villages hiding their secrets behind the intoxicating smell of baking bread and the piety of charming churches. I love the long, bloody history of France and have managed to wind the prehistoric age into this book. There are archeological sites all over France but we tend to hear about Viking ships unearthed in England. France too had its ancient tribes and lost settlements. Iron Age and early Roman finds figure in the tale. 

Will Pascal get his vineyard? Will Merle buy her cottages? What is ailing Francie? How did the man come to die in the vineyard? 

After those questions, the main events of the mystery, are resolved a few loose ends remained. So I wrote a free bonus epilogue that you can link to at the end of the e-book. (Use the QR code in the paperback.) 

Some secret treasures to be revealed… Enjoy! 


Get Lost in Provence

Posted by on 10-10-20 in Bennett Sisters | 0 comments

Lost in Lavender
Coming October 15 – in e-book and paperback

You may never want to go home

lavender bunch

A dollop of mystery, a soupçon of romance, mixed well with intrigue and lavender:

a recipe for a Provençal adventure

Now on the dark side of 40, Elise Bennett is ripe for a midlife crisis. She went into the law because her four older sisters are all attorneys but she hates her job. The sisters have all found love. Elise broke up with a boyfriend she couldn’t marry. Nothing seems to work out for her.

How can she be happy? The constant pressure from her family to be a successful lawyer is crushing. Her ex is driving her nuts. She decides to escape to France where she books herself an exotic vacation. A farm stay in Provence at a lavender farm sounds ideal for thrashing out her future.

Unfortunately all the other guests at the picturesque family farm are twenty-year-old college students. And the work is menial and dull. There is Conor who drives the family tractor but even he rejects Elise. She feels like the world has turned on her. So when she meets a suave Frenchman at a village festival she falls for his charms.

Only after Elise runs off to the man’s house near Aix-en-Provence does she begin to wonder who Ari is– and where he is. Thus begins a tangle of suspicion and mystery that Elise, along with her sister Merle and her policeman/partner, Pascal, must unravel.

Intrigue, adventure, murder, and romance: all is not all sunshine and flowers in the south of France. But for Elise’s sake, will there at least be time for a summer fling?

This is one of the most delightful series I have ever read. I couldn’t wait each day to get back to reading. The Bennett Sisters are filled with adventure and excitement. Romance, joy of living and dead bodies accompany their adventures! You will be amused and mesmerized by this delightful series!

— Jo Gibbs, Amazon reviewer

Your French Boyfriend is FREE

Posted by on 9-09-20 in Bennett Sisters, ebooks, France, Giveaways | 0 comments

Hurry… DEAD Flat 1: Bottle of Lies is FREE this week only!

On all platforms, find your favorite!

KOBO: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/dead-flat-2 (available in many countries on KOBO)
Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/ca/book/dead-flat/id1491211268 (available in many countries on Apple Books)

Pascal is ready for a long break with his live-in love, Merle Bennett, at their cottage in the Dordogne. But a favor is called in from his boss and off he goes to Champagne, to investigate a fraudulent labeling of wine at a swanky domaine. Thus starts Pascal’s first adventure in the Bennett Sisters Mystery series, as a wine fraud cop working with the Police Nationale.

This first installment, a novella, explores the inner life and family ties of the attractive French boyfriend and wine fraud detective in the series. Dead Flat is a trilogy. Read on for Parts 2 & 3: “Outside the Bubble” and “Uncorked.”

Two new box sets for you binge readers!

Posted by on 6-06-20 in Bennett Sisters, ebooks | 0 comments














Two new box sets, each with two books!

The first one, on the left, is the box set of the two Bennett Sisters mysteries that feature Francie Bennett and her adventures in Paris and the countryside of France. In Blame it on Paris she runs off to Paris to get away from troubles at her law firm, only to run into an old boyfriend. She and Merle work to get an American student out of a notorious French prison, while keeping said boyfriend in sight. In A Bolt from the Blue, Francie comes back to Paris with Dylan and helps out by escorting a sour old woman who is the heir, with a cousin, to her aunt’s estate. The woman has lived in the US for years and vowed never to return to France. Her secrets, and her aunt’s, make for an exciting mystery.

Bennett Sisters Volume 7 & 8

I wrote two thrillers as ‘Rory Tate,’ — one of many pseudonyms — and they are collected here for readers who like a fast-paced thrill-ride with spies and villains. In Jump Cut, television news reporter Mimi Raynard is struggling in her career. At the same time Seattle narcotics detective, Shad Mulgrew, is accused of stealing drugs from evidence. Meanwhile Mimi’s father, a shady operator now in Moldova, summons her to help him. A wild ride through the former Soviet bloc and back to Seattle. PLAN X starts in Montana with a bang, an explosion in a university lab that kills a professor of Shakespeare. Policewoman Cody Byrne is tasked with finding his next of kin, a job that turns out to be much more difficult and dangerous than anyone imagined, taking her to Washington DC and England.

Also included in the Two International Thrillers is a bonus short story featuring reporter Mimi Raynard, running down a story during a freak winter storm in slippery Seattle.

Get the Thriller Box Set Now

Available to Kindle Unlimited readers

Have you read these books already? Please leave a review on the box set page! Thank you

See all Lise’s books on Amazon

Pascal Part 3 or the full trilogy

Posted by on 3-03-20 in Bennett Sisters | 0 comments

Get Ready for the full Trilogy, coming April 1

The paperback of the full trilogy is ready to go, and the ebook is releasing April 1!

If you’ve been waiting for the full version after seeing the first three parts come out over the last few months– here you go! All three parts in one ebook and paperback.

Pascal d’Onscon, Merle Bennett’s love, is a wine fraud detective affiliated with the French Police Nationale. He gets a call to go to the Champagne region from his boss. It’s not his usual region but a favor for his boss for an old friend who owns a winery there. When things go bad, Pascal is the only one to mop up the mess. He also has to untangle his sisters’ personal lives and his own professional life. Should he take the promotion that would mean leaving the Dordogne and his life with Merle? So many questions. Find out the answers in DEAD FLAT.

DEAD FLAT: full trilogy

If you’ve already read parts 1 and 2, Bottle of Lies and Outside the Bubble, you might just want to buy part 3, Uncorked. Read the final installment with the twists and turns of the murder investigation and bottle scam discovered by Pascal d’Onscon. Will he take the promotion and move to Paris? Why did the vintner die? What the heck is going on??

DEAD FLAT 3: Uncorked


Things really pick up pace in this book! Even Merle gets involved in solving the case! She has a keen deductive mind and was seriously impressing Pascal. I didn’t see the solution at all! It was a whole lot of fun experiencing a mystery from Pascals’s point of view!

I absolutely love these books! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Amazon reviewer

Pascal Part Deux

Posted by on 1-01-20 in Bennett Sisters, France | 0 comments

Pascal’s adventures continue!

The second part of the trilogy of DEAD FLAT takes Pascal out of Champagne and back to the Dordogne and Merle. He’s had to rescue his older sister, Suzette, from a dicey domestic situation but the drama continues as they hit the road to see another sister in Bretagne.

There is a lot of driving in this book, like all over France! I did a lot of driving on my last trip to France. That was the famous trip where I didn’t know how to shift into reverse and got stuck crosswise in traffic. Ack. Pascal is a much better (and faster) driver in his vintage BMW but his sister Suzette isn’t the best passenger and gets on his nerves. Luckily he has Merle along to lighten the mood.

DEAD FLAT 2: get it now

We find out more about Pascal’s family in this installment which ends in a twist! Someone gets arrested for the murder of the vintner! Zut alors! Stay tuned for the final part, DEAD FLAT 3: Uncorked, coming at the end of February. Preorder now to get it ASAP.


Did you miss the first book in the trilogy? Here it is!

Pascal gets the spotlight

Posted by on 12-12-19 in Bennett Sisters | 0 comments

It’s about time! Pascal d’Onscon, that hunky French wine detective who was introduced in the first Bennett Sisters Mystery, Blackbird Fly, now has his own mini series! It’s a trilogy of novellas called DEAD FLAT and the first one, ‘Bottle of Lies,’ is now live!

In this story Pascal goes to northeast France, to the Champagne region, to investigate a phony label on a bottle of white wine. Along the way he tussles with bad guys, sips some bubbly, and rescues his sister from a dicey domestic situation.

It was fun writing from Pascal’s point of view for a change. He’s had a few short scenes in other books but most of the series is from one of the sisters’ points of view, that is, in their heads, feeling their emotions. Pascal is a Frenchman so he has plenty of emotions!

The follow-up, Part 2, comes out January 15. The finale releases February 27. Yes, I’m stringing you along! But giving you something to look forward to, I hope. It’s an experiment and I hope you enjoy it.

After you read Part 1 (or even now!) PREORDER THE NEXT PARTS! Très façile!

Who is that Narrator? An Interview with Denice Stradling

Posted by on 11-11-19 in audiobooks, Bennett Sisters | 0 comments

My latest audiobook is now live (‘A Bolt from the Blue’)

… so I thought it was time to do a little sit-down with my favorite narrator! Denice Stradling has narrated all the Bennett Sisters mysteries. She began years ago with ‘Blackbird Fly,’ and it’s been just the best collaboration. I ❤️ Denice!

Denice Stradling

Denice in her studio

Lise: First of all, thank you so much for narrating all the Bennett Sisters Mysteries. That continuity means a lot to me, and, I hope, to listeners of the audiobooks.

Denice: Trust me, Lise, the pleasure is all mine!!!  I love following Merle and Pascal, Francie and all the sisters.  (I’m smiling, just thinking about them!!)

  • How did you get started in audiobook narration, i.e., what is your background?

I come from a theatre background, with a little TV and film work thrown in. I’ve always been an avid reader since I was seven.  When my mother-in-law gave me an audio book to listen to – a bell went off in my head.  “Wouldn’t this be THE BEST to be able to do this!!”  I did some research, took some classes, did some volunteering with Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, and that was my start.  

  • You narrated ‘Blackbird Fly’ almost ten years ago, before Amazon/Audible got into the business. What was it like in the early days of ‘indie audiobooks’?

My first book was a Young Adult book for Iambik.  I auditioned for it, and got it.  I don’t think I gave much thought to whether it was ‘indie’ or not.  I was so happy to have an audiobook to narrate – that’s all I thought about!!  Then, ACX/Audible came on the scene and I think that’s when I realized how thriving the whole indie book world was.  It was so exciting to see!

  • What ever became of Iambik, the first audiobook production company we dealt with?

They’re still in business, as far as I know.  I think they’re mostly focusing on textbooks now.  I did a couple of titles for them, but then got quite busy with other work with other companies.  

  • What attracted you to ‘Blackbird Fly’ and the Bennett Sisters mysteries?

Do you know, Lise, I wish I could remember what my audition was like for BLACKBIRD FLY, but I don’t!!  But I do remember, after you chose me to narrate the book, and I pre-read it and prepped it for narration, oh my God, I just fell in love with it.  It was so visual!!  I could see the house, I could see Pascal on the roof, I could see Merle and her frustration with all that went with what she had to go through with her house, in the middle of her grief of losing her husband, and then finding out – well, I won’t give it away!!   And Tristan!!  I loved Tristan!!  When’s he coming back?!! 

  • Ooh… good idea! Tristan will return! Is there one quality to the books that you especially like? Or two, or three?

You have a way of communicating the inner feelings/conflicts of your characters, that I especially love.  A line of dialogue may appear, but then the next sentence/paragraph is internal.  I really love that.  And also, your characters are SO well defined!!  All the sisters are so distinct, so fleshed out.  That makes it so much easier to give voice to them!!  


  • Do you have a favorite book from the series?

I would have to say BLACKBIRD FLY, because it was the first one, and set the through-line up; and then, BLAME IT ON PARIS, because I loved the relationship between Francie and Dylan being explored; and then A BOLT FROM THE BLUE – I absolutely LOVE Axelle, and all she’s been through.  And I loved learning about Yves Klein and IKB. 

  • Do you have a favorite sister?

Gotta be Merle – the ‘tent pole sister’.  I really identify with her conflicts.  But actually, the whole concept of having many sisters with many personalities, like PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, or LITTLE WOMEN – there is a tendency to see parts of ourselves in all the character, and I love that!! 

  • What about a favorite secondary character?

How could it NOT be Pascal??!!  Absolutely!!  

Hint: Pascal gets to star in the one I’m working on now!

Ready for preorder, the first of a trilogy.

  • How long does it take to produce an audiobook? What is your studio set-up like?

It differs for everyone.  I left my ‘day job’ three years ago, with the idea that I would become a full-time audiobook narrator, but it didn’t work out that way.  I found other passions that I wanted to explore – writing, volunteer work, to name a couple – so now I devote about half my work time to audiobooks.  I will usually invest my time to the deadline of the book.  If a publisher/rights holder gives me three months to finish a project, I’ll take it all.  If I’ve got 4 to six weeks – I’ll make that happen, too!  When I go into a studio to do a book – and there are a few here in Los Angeles – their schedule becomes my schedule.  My recording set-up is a converted half-bathroom, in which I have built a sound studio – a room within a room with sound blankets and other acoustical material.  And, of course, my microphone and workstation/computer.  

  • What are other audiobooks you’ve narrated?  Are they similar to the Bennett Sisters?

Actually, my list is quite varied, I’m happy to say.  About one-third of it is non-fiction, which I like to do, just for the learning process of it.  As for the fiction part, I lean toward women’s fiction, suspense, cozy mysteries and cozy romance.  You can check me out on my Audible page.

  • How did the latest, ‘A Bolt from the Blue’ differ from the previous audiobooks?

Audiobook Bolt from the Blue I loved learning about Yves Klein and International Klein Blue.  And, I loved Axelle.  I loved that she was older, questioning, nostalgic, but also, knowing who she was.  I hope we see her in another book!  

  • Have you heard feedback from listeners about the series? Anything worth sharing? 🙂 

I haven’t heard personally, but just found this on Audible:

“I absolutely loved this new Bennett Sisters Mystery! These novels just get better and better with each installment. And Ms. Stradling’s narration and French dialects get better all the time, as well. This mystery is very clever, the settings are richly portrayed, and the characters sing with authenticity. Thank you, Ms. McClendon, for another wonderfully enjoyable listen!”

(Can you see the smile on my face?!)

I can! Mine too!! Thank you, Denice. This was fun.

Check out all the audiobooks on Amazon, Audible, or iTunes! 

Or take a look at the Audiobooks tab for all of them

Check out Denice’s Facebook page for her voice work

Interested in reviewing audiobooks? I have Audible codes to (almost) all of them, if you can commit to listening and reviewing! Drop me a line through the Contact Tab

The new Bennett Sisters Mystery is live!

Posted by on 8-08-19 in Bennett Sisters | 0 comments

Ready to go back to France?

The new Bennett Sisters Mystery is live! You’ve read an excerpt, you’ve seen the cover, you may have read a few details about the story… but now the book is here!

Get it now on all platforms:




i B O O K S


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Drumroll! The Cover is Here!

Posted by on 5-05-19 in Bennett Sisters | 2 comments

Here’s the new one!

A Bolt from the Blue

a Bennett Sisters Mystery

coming August 2019

What is it about??

Number 9 in the Bennett Sisters Mystery Series, coming soon! Preorder now

Francie goes back to Paris with her law school boyfriend to help with a touchy client, a woman who left France as a teenager, fifty years before, just after the student riots of 1968.

Now an aunt has left her an inheritance. The client, a retired professor, must go back to Paris despite her claims of hating the country of her birth.

Read a sample HERE.

Preorder from AMAZON HERE.

A Sneak Peek into the next Bennett Sisters Mystery

Posted by on 4-04-19 in Bennett Sisters | 4 comments

Just for you…

a taste of the next mystery in France, featuring those lawyer girls, the Bennett Sisters


Chapter 1

The Dordogne

The village was not really that— there was no town square, no post office, no store. Not much of anything but overgrown lots and sparse stands of trees. It was approached carefully, with forethought, through the backwoods and down narrow roads, winding around hummocks and along streams. The place was on no maps, if you can get a map detailed enough to show these dusty two-tracks. A hamlet, something Francie somehow associated with small ham sandwiches— ridiculous, yes— that’s what it was. A mere hamlet: a collection of a few houses of varying sizes, on acreages with falling-down barns and grass up to your knees.

Francie wound her way to the hamlet on the ever-smaller roads, following the GPS directions from her phone. Otherwise she’d have been lost for days, driving in circles down shaded lanes, far from civilization. She’d once marveled that cosmopolitan France, land of manners and fashion and cuisine and sophistication, could have such neglected backwaters. Where were the house-flippers and Brits on the prowl? These places seemed untouched by modernization, although she did spot electrical poles along the way and hoped for at least minimal lighting inside the mansion she’d been assigned to open. 

The duty had sounded delicious and mysterious, evoking a girlish curiosity that Francie was glad to find she hadn’t outgrown. To outlive curiosity, to be jaded about the unknown and undiscovered, would be tragic. So here she was, deep in the Dordogne, far from vineyards and goats, far from, well, people. To open an old woman’s manse, a family house no one had cared about for nearly forty years. 

Putting aside visions of rats and pigeons, she stood outside the stone house, dangling the keys. Of course she was curious. She’d read about apartments in Paris that had been boarded up after the Great War and never touched for sixty years, museums of a long-gone time. Would this old house be so fabulous? Or simply disgusting? Merle’s cottage had been more filthy than delightful at first. 

She tried to stay upbeat, searching for then finding the key to the rusty padlock on the door shutters. She had to put her weight on it to get it to budge, but finally it gave way, turning and springing open. Double doors with small glass panes and lace curtains stood inside the shutters. Another key. She rummaged through the tags for the right one. 

The house was much larger than Merle’s cottage, although, as the crow flies they weren’t far apart. Francie hadn’t known what to expect. The old lady came from a family of aristocrats, what was left of them in secular, socialist, post-Revolution, post-Napoleonic, post-war France. Deposed dukes, landed gentry, they remained today, living amongst us, although their wealth was often tied up in land and houses no one wanted, or their fortunes gone forever along with their heads.  

Two stories high, the mansion’s roof sported fancy gables with odd-shaped windows indicating a third floor under the slate roof. All shuttered and smothered by vines. The wooden shutters were a soft, peeling rose color. Maybe once they’d been burgundy but many summers had faded them. The yard was a flat, dry driveway overrun with weeds. Dry, prickly thistles scratched those who dared to enter. A half-dead tree stood guard, its leaves yellow and black.

Key in the lock, she wiggled it for two minutes before she felt it give. The house didn’t want to give up its secrets, that was obvious. Then it turned, a loud, metallic click. Her cell phone rang.

It was Dylan. “Did you find it?”

“I think so. This must be it.”

He read off the address again, which didn’t help. “There are no street signs. No signs of any kind.”

“Well, if the key works, there’s your answer.”

 “I’m unlocking the door right now. The first padlock opened.”

“What’s it like?”

“On the outside, about what you’d expect, dirty and weedy. In the middle of serious French nowhere. All the shutters look intact though, and the roof looks good from the front at least.”

“Okay, call me once you look around inside.”

She slipped her phone back in her pocket and pushed open the double doors. The stale stench of dust, mold, and animal droppings swept past her as if glad to be free. But there was something else, flowery, powdery. What was it? Her eyes blinked against the darkness.

She paused, listening, pulled out a small flashlight, and stepped inside. 


Chapter 2


Two Weeks Earlier

The day the letter arrived, Axelle Fourcier was preparing for what she hoped was the last move of her life. She sighed, feeling the ache in her back. She was old, she couldn’t move at the drop of a hat anymore. She’d retired two years before from the university and found herself bored to tears at least once a week. She wished she could go back to teaching. That was impossible. The dean had said as much, a glassy horror in his eyes at the thought. So she now had all the time she wanted to read history and keep up on her native French. That was excellent, she tried to persuade herself. Keep the brain active. She did read for hours each day, but mostly in English. For the French she watched France 24 news on their website, and found it dry as toast.

The letter at least added a minor frisson to her thrilling day of packing boxes. She gave them a stare, piled haphazardly in the hallway. Who knew if she’d be happier, healthier, more engaged in life in North Carolina than Oklahoma? She certainly didn’t, although she’d decided she’d rather be blown off the Earth by a hurricane than die a mouldering death in the flatlands of America. The little beach house had called to her. At least hurricanes weren’t boring.

The letter was from an attorney’s office. In Paris. That gave her a slight chill. Paris. Flashbacks of her youth, burning cars in the streets, sitting arm-in-arm with thousands of classmates under the Arc de Triomphe, then marching, chanting: “Adieu, de Gaulle!” So long ago and yet she could still smell the asphalt of the streets and the melting rubber tires of the cars. 

She walked out onto the porch of her house, just blocks from the university campus, carrying the unopened letter and shaking the images from her head. The past still haunted her. She thought she’d put it to bed years ago but it was obvious she had not. 

She stared at the ornate handwriting on the envelope, in blue ink and very French, with her name and address. She sighed, squared her shoulders, and tore open the flap. A single sheet of fine stationery was folded inside. 

The name of the law firm rang a distant bell in her mind. Where had she heard it? The letter was in French, which seemed presumptuous after all these years.


It is with the greatest sympathy and sadness that we must inform you that your great-aunt, Mathilde Fourcier, has died. Her long life must be a consolation to you and all her relatives. She died without issue so leaves her estate to you and your cousin, Lucien Daucourt, of Paris. 

Monsieur Daucourt has personally examined the estate papers and informed us of your address. This took some time, as apparently you have not recently corresponded. The elder Madame Fourcier passed away on May 3 of this year, four months ago. M. Daucourt took charge of arranging her effects and has placed the urn with her remains in the family crypt in — cemetery, in —. We pray that this is satisfactory with you. 

It is imperative that we meet with you at the earlier possible time to discuss the disposition of the estate. Madame Fourcier did not deplete her estate, despite being 104 years of age. There is much to examine. Therefore, we request your presence in Paris at your soonest convenience. Please call us at the number above.


Axelle sat down on a dusty porch chair and re-read the letter. Several of the French legal terms made her squint into the dry lawn, trying to dredge up their meanings. The main message was clear: Tante Mathilde was dead, at 104. She blinked hard. She’d last seen her aunt in 1969, when they were both young. Feisty and independent, her aunt had hair like Brigitte Bardot and a string of high society boyfriends, none of whom she liked well enough to marry. She was so charming and exciting, a light in the stratosphere to the teenage girl. Axelle could hear her laugh now, head thrown back, crimson lipstick, full-throated as a lark.

Axelle closed her eyes, a sadness for the past washing over her. The French curse, this pitiful nostalgia for things that will never be again. This melancholy for “temps perdu,” as Proust called it. He couldn’t find his lost time, and the search for it crippled him. She would not let nostalgia cripple her. She was as American, as modern, as optimistic, as anyone. She’d worked so hard to cleanse herself from the eroding pessimism she saw in her countrymen.

But it was still with her. Her curse, because, try as she might, she was still French. 

She took a deep breath and stared at the letter in her lap. Her tantine had not forgotten her. And also this cousin. Who was he? She had no memory of any cousin named Lucien. Their correspondence was nonexistent. There couldn’t be much left of the estate, despite what the attorneys said, not after 104 years of extravagance as only a woman who was rich, wild, and French could live. The question was, was there enough left to warrant a trip back to the past? 

She would call the lawyers. It might be nothing. Surely it was nothing.

Going back to France was, after all, against everything she stood for, as she’d told everyone who’d listen all these years. Never! she crowed when they asked if she would return. The looks in their eyes, the confusion over her adamant statements. No one understood, because of course she never explained.

And yet. A twinge of regret stung her. She had missed seeing her aunt one last time, kissing her dusty cheeks, catching her orange-vanilla scent. Missed easing her into her last comforts. Missed feeding her pink macarons and jasmine tea from Mariage Frères, tucking a cashmere shawl around her shoulders.

Axelle sighed deeply, frustrated and tired. Her stubborn pride was a burden. Did she still despise la republique? She felt every day of her age. Did she care anymore?

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