In 2003, restaurateur Mark Fraysse, rumored to be in danger of losing a Michelin star, invited the press to hear an important announcement. Fraysse did not talk to the press that day. Instead the press reported his death, his body having been found near his restaurant after he failed to return from his afternoon run. Fraysse had been shot to death. Blood splatter "blowback" from the entry wound was found on the back of his hands. In 2010, forensic scientist Enzo Macleod sets out to find the killer, the fifth of seven cold cases he has undertaken to solve. The earlier cases were chronicled in Peter May's previous Enzo Files novels, although this is the only one I've read. In the first novel, Enzo apparently made a bet that he could solve them all.
Who would kill a beloved chef? Enzo begins by visiting the crime scene, speaking with Fraysse's mother and brother (the latter was also his business partner), and inspecting the restaurant's sterling kitchen and capacious wine cellar. Through much of this lively novel, eating and drinking plays a more important role than forensic science. Peter May writes lovingly of haute cuisine, wine, and the French countryside. Blowback is as much a celebration of fine dining as it is a mystery. It provides an inside look at the kind of restaurant (together with its food and wine) that earns the highly coveted three star Michelin rating. Reading it made my mouth water; I would have gained ten pounds sating my stimulated appetite if the novel had been longer. Of course, being in France, Enzo's thoughts turn to romance; Dominique, the police officer who was first on the scene of the crime, catches his eye. Food, wine, and desire: who knew solving murders could be such fun?
Blowback is a clever mystery novel. As Enzo investigates (in between meals and drinks and romantic interludes), several suspects with potential motives for homicide come into focus. The first half of the story proceeds at a leisurely pace but it picks up a bit after Enzo learns (via a near death experience) that his life is in danger. Peter May is a capable writer; his prose isn't stirring but it is better than average for the genre. The resolution is satisfying, with the kind of twist ending that mystery fans should appreciate.
The novel does have its faults. May gives Enzo an overwhelming amount of family baggage that apparently accrued during the course of the series. Enzo's uncertain relationships with siblings and children and former lovers take the phrase "complicated life" to a new level. Perhaps that adds depth to his character for the reader who is familiar with the earlier books. For me, it was too much; Enzo's family issues eventually became a distraction from the plot, slowing the pace just as suspense was building (fortunately, it rockets along at the end). I was also annoyed by the convenient parallels between Enzo's family issues and those of the Fraysse family -- parallels that were a bit too coincidental to be credible and too manipulative to add the drama that May likely intended. Finally, Enzo discovers what purports to be a memoir but it is written in the same voice as the rest of the novel. Still, despite its imperfections, Blowback is an entertaining novel that most mystery fans and nearly all foodies should enjoy.