The sudden death of her husband turns Merle Bennett's life upside down. Her work for poor legal clients isn't going to pay the bills and her son is kicked out of school. The blows just keep on coming. Merle finds herself doing what she least expected, decamping to France for the summer to fix up her late husband's ancestral home. The village in southwest France should be idyllic: warm sunshine, vineyards, and walls of golden stone. Merle gets an off-the-books job as a tour guide at a local winery and evicts a squatter. But the townspeople are more than merely unfriendly. As the past unravels, colliding with modern tensions and the filthy trials of renovation, the summer takes on a dark cast, full of secrets best left buried. In her first stand-alone suspense novel, Lise McClendon reaches deep into the past to find a France untouched by the outside world of tourism and fashion. Writing in a "lyrical, often humorous style," she brings both the pain and rewards of rebirth and the rich French countryside to life.
Lise gives an overview of the book:
ON THE DAY HAROLD STRACHIE DIED New York City struggled to slough off the lingering chill of winter and he struggled with his spare tire. Twenty pounds had crept up on him, without his consent. He gulped down the usual double-double espresso to get the juices flowing. The early morning was dark and echoing, his only company garbage trucks and young people jogging, their feet slapping the sidewalk, oblivious to middle age.
Getting fit was a bitch. Walking from the train or subway was the extent of his exercise up until now. The extra pounds made Harry feel old at 54, someone who had lost control of his own fate. He refused to let his champagne belly keep him down. He would be muscular, strong, a master of his universe. Confidence was everything.
He’d spent the night in the City as he often did when his deals were soft. For several hours before the markets opened he would work while the office was quiet, researching trends and companies, so he was ready to pounce. But he didn’t feel too cat-like climbing the seven flights of stairs to his office, his new daily workout. He stopped on each landing to catch his breath.
In the empty lobby, he fumbled for the light switch and swayed on his feet, woozy. Cold sweat ran into his collar. He blinked, hung up his coat, and sat down. If he’d had a picture of his family on his desk, which he didn’t, he would have picked it up. His boy — so smart and tough and, yes, awkward at 15, but he’d grow out of that and be better for it. And his darling girl who looked so much like him with dark curls and mournful eyes. He wished he’d stolen into her bedroom this morning and ruffled her sweet hair.
A horrible squeeze of his chest made him grab his shirt. He gasped, waiting. As the tightness eased, he saw his daughter again, ten years from now, in makeup and mini-skirts and all her innocence lost, and he felt the pain again, harder.
Black spots floated before his eyes. He sat back in his chair, trying to relax. Christ, this wasn’t good. He shouldn’t have had that espresso. If this was heartburn he’d be buying antacids.
The squeezing lessened. He’d get an appointment with his doctor for later in the week. He could already see the smirk on the doctor’s face when he told him to stop being such a nervous nelly. A moment of calm. The office quiet was soothing. He took a light breath and blew it out.
Harry clicked on his computer. As the reports streamed in he clicked through prices, checking analysis. The sweat on his forehead began to dry. Just another day, he thought. Then, the last, the worst — the pain seized him again, and the black spots grew and merged into one.
WHEN SOMETHING SHATTERS, when whatever you’re attached to ends, definitely, the moment rises up like it’s been hanging there for years, a lead balloon waiting to drop with a heavy thud into your life. All that living leading to this exact moment in time. Where has fate been hiding? Doesn’t matter. Here it is. Here it is, by God.
Merle stared at the phone, heavy, institutional beige. She’d arrived at the Legal Aid offices in Harlem a few minutes before. She was still wearing her boots. She hadn’t touched her coffee.
He was dead. Harry. Husband. Deceased.
Dreaming of a little French cottage made of golden stone? Me too, so I conjured one up for both of us. But it's not as idyllic as it seems, not for Merle Bennett, newly widowed and up to her neck in family secrets. With a surly teenager, a sexy roofer, and a crazy squatter, summer in France just might be break life's monotony.
After more than twenty years of writing fiction the practice has become as natural and essential as breathing to me. I have published nine novels, under my own name and my thriller persona, Rory Tate. With a group of talented women I adapted a short story into a short film....