MURDER ON THE RUE CASSETTE, the fourth book in the Serafina Florio mystery series, is available on Amazon.
It’s Paris in 1874. The story begins with the sparkle of the first impressionist exhibit. But that night, when a countess is found shot to death in the Rue Cassette, Serafina investigates the brutal murder. As the plot twists, Serafina and her friends find themselves in the dangerous grip of a mind gone feral.
Summary: A group of painters hang their works in a studio on the Boulevard des Capucines. Elena, a Sicilian countess estranged from her husband and living in Paris for the past seven years, attends the opening with her latest flame. She counts many of these artists as her friends, some as her former lovers. As she views their works, she is in awe of their explosive color, their exciting lines, the quality of the light. “They will change how the world sees,” a friend tells her, and she longs to paint with their talent.
Three hours later, Elena’s body is found in the Rue Cassette, fatally shot in the left temple. Her husband, Loffredo, also Serafina’s lover, is charged with her murder and awaits trial in a Paris prison.
Serafina is commissioned to investigate the countess’s death. The sleuth and her entourage travel to Paris where they stay at the luxurious Hôtel du Louvre then located on the Place du Palais Royal. They dine at the finest restaurants and bistros including Maison Dorée, Véfour, Café Procope, and Bofinger. Berthe Morisot, Victorine Meurent, Paul Cézanne, Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Édouard Manet, Stéphane Mallarmé, Camille Saint-Saëns, and other notables make cameo appearances as Serafina interviews friends of the countess. At the same time she discovers bits and pieces of the truth concerning the dead woman and attempts to convince Inspector Alphonse Valois, her counterpart at La Sûreté Nationale, of Loffredo’s innocence. As the plot twists and turns, Serafina and her friends find themselves in the dangerous grip of a mind gone feral.
Excerpt from Chapter One
Paris, April 15, 1874
Elena breathed in, dazzled by the paintings. As she gazed at them, the Siege and the Commune seemed distant memories. France had arisen from its ashes, shimmering in a glorious rebirth, the brightness of the works blinding her.
Her friends had labored so hard and for so many years, shunned by the Salon and their stuffy convention. God knew many of the critics had derided them. Yet the artists persisted.
Turning slowly, she regarded one work, then another and another. Paintings by Degas, Pissarro, Cézanne, Monet, Boudin, Renoir, Morisot, and a host of others she did not know and who did not know her, not yet.
The studio was stuffy tonight with all of Paris here.
“Pardon, Madame. Sorry, I did not see your train.”
“Quite all right,” Elena muttered, fanning herself.
“You too? I can’t breathe,” Étienne said. He ran a finger inside his collar and patted his cravat. “Such hideous dabbling.” He pointed to a painting of a ballerina in blue tulle.
Elena lifted her train, draping the fabric over her arm. “And do keep your voice down or I’ll leave.”
She gestured toward the four walls. “The paintings express a feeling, the grasp of a moment,” she said. “Not that you’d ever understand.”
She watched him squint at a canvas and shake his head. Again she tried to explain the artist’s vision, but he’d made up his mind not to like them. He was so tedious. His taste was so difficult, so bourgeois, his eyes blind to anything new.
“See how she holds her linen? She’s just finished her dance. Her hair is unkempt, still wet in spots from exertion, her skirt filled with light and movement and air. She turns her head toward us, and in that sweet gesture, Renoir has captured the secret of being a child.”
“Too old to be a child, and her hair’s not coiffed. Is it hair?”
“And the legs, are they legs?” a man asked bustling toward them. He had a pinched face and was short. “Cottony-looking if you ask me.” He stood close to the canvas and lifted his nose.
Étienne inclined his head and smiled at the man. “My point exactly.”
“You don’t understand,” Elena said, turning to the newcomer.
Another man approached. “Allow me to explain,” he said. He pulled at his red goatee.
“Oh, Pierre, your paintings are exquisite, such distinctive brush work. Congratulations. But do I know the child?”
“The portrait of a girl, thirteen or perhaps fourteen, and from a prominent family. The painting is an impression of a fleeting moment, like all the works here.” His hand encompassed the room.
He was interrupted by a woman with a large bosom wearing a mauve dress. She peered into her lorgnette. “Such a darling child.”
“Darling?” Renoir asked and turned away.
Elena took Renoir’s arm and whispered, “Take the praise, forget the rest.”
Étienne strode away, wiping the shoulders of his frock coat. “I haven’t time for these sketches.”
From the moment they entered the room, she’d seen Étienne’s discomfort as he scanned the oils and pastels. It was obvious he didn’t understand them. The chatter stopped and she felt a hundred eyes on them as they made their way through the crowd. His clothes ill-suited the event and he hadn’t known what to say. He’d avoided her glances. It was a mistake, their coming. Especially since several of her ex-lovers were there, some of them boorish in their celebration. Artists and poets, after all, and in Paris—what did he expect?
Elena shook her head. Impossible. She’d show him, she’d show them all. Perhaps next year she’d have a canvas ready to hang if she put her mind to it, and finally she’d have the recognition she deserved. But she must steal away from the crowd. She must prepare—that’s what one of her friends told her—and then she’d be a part of the grand sweep of history, and in Paris where she belonged. Her heart swelled. She shut her eyes, drunk with the heady mix of linseed oil, varnish, and dreams.
“And what’s this?” Étienne threw his hand toward an autumn scene. “Not at all like Bougival. Nothing is drawn properly. Trees don’t look like that—sticks with fur on them? And I’ve never seen that color in the leaves before.”
“But the light, it’s the blast of light at sunset. Don’t you see? Sisley has painted a moment.”
“No, I don’t see,” Étienne said. “No wonder these painters were rejected. Their works are not worthy of the Salon.”
With that, Elena spun around. Her head down, she marched out of the room, Étienne smoothing his stuffed shirt and tripping to keep up with her. At the door she told Berthe Morisot she’d return soon.
Photo: Cover, Murder On The Rue Cassette, Avalon Graphics