I liked "Death a l' Orange" the best of all the books (so far) in the Culinary Mystery series. The best way I can think to describe this novel is to say that is both whimsical and surreal at the same time. The descriptions of the foods and sights of France were fantastic and made me wish I was about to embark on my own holiday of France. I also loved Nancy Fairbanks's vivid portrayals of the different bickering academics, and their wives, in the tour group -- it brought back memories of being in grad school all over again!
Because her husband has to undergo bypass surgery, Mrs. Atwater, a friend of the Blues, offers them their tour tickets to Normandy and the Loire Valley at a cheaper than usual price. Of course the Blues enthusiastically accept. A chance to partake in the sights and foods of Normandy is not something any amateur historian and budding food critic would willingly pass up! Another bonus is that the tour group will comprise of academics (and their better halves) from the university that Jason had been previously lecturing at. So that there would quite a few people that they actually know. The only caveat to all this is that Carolyn and Jason would also have to keep an eye on the Atwater teenage daughter, Edie. However Carolyn is sure that everything will be a breeze -- that is until she realises that 1) the tour group seems to be made up of bickering lecturers (and their equally quarrelsome spouses), three of whom are involved in a race for the deanship of the College of Arts and Sciences; 2) she notices that Edie Atwater is a budding mantrap who has attached herself firmly to the Blues' son; and 3) that a series of rather troublesome accidents seem to be dogging the group, and Professor Childeric, a medieval historian, in particular.
When the first accident befalls Childeric (he falls onto the luggage carousel at the airport), Carolyn thinks little of the accident despite Childeric's claims of having been maliciously pushed. But Childeric is soon the victim of another 'accident' and Carolyn begins to seriously wonder if someone is actually out to get the professor, as he insists. As the days pass, the 'accidents' take on a more sinister aspect, and Jason soon begins to worry about Carolyn's safety as Childeric seems to have attached himself firmly to her elbow...
As with the second book in this series, "Truffled Feathers," this latest Carolyn Blue mystery novel is also divided into two narratives -- Carolyn's at times humourous one that includes some rather entertaining sidebars of historical and gastronomical fact, is nicely juxtaposed with her husband's, Jason, more factual and matter-of-fact account of what's going on. In spite of the dual narrative plot device, the novel unfolded smoothly and at a brisk pace. Before I even knew it, I had devoured the novel and was lefty with that 'I wish there was more' feeling. "Death a l' Orange" is truly enjoyable read. Carolyn and Jason's tongue-in-cheek observations of the foibles of those around them (the French natives and the American tour group members) are bound to entertain. But in spite of all this light whimsy, Nancy Fairbanks also successfully imbues the novel with an air of sinister surrealism as the number of accidents mount and they begin to take on a darker hue. Thus lending a rather suspenseful tone to the book as you wonder what will happen next! Be warned however, charming and enjoyable though "Death a l' Orange" was, there is actually very little of the hunt-for-the-dangerous-prank-player aspect in this novel. Carolyn does try to tabulate what's going on and to figure out who the likely suspects are; but unfortunately is easily side tracked by the sights and foods and the private lives of the group members. Still, this is an entertaining and engaging novel that should not be missed.