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The fourth book in the "Death in Dordogne" series, Kill for an Orchid spans two hemispheres and three centuries, taking readers on a suspenseful journey of greed, obsession and murder.
Life is finally coming together for Mara and Julian in their idyllic corner of the French countryside. They are even contemplating marriage! However, their happy prospects hit a nasty bump when Véronique, Julian's not-so-ex-wife, turns up unexpectedly, threatening blackmail and trouble.
Trouble indeed: Veronique is brutally murdered, and the local gendarmes' top suspect is Julian himself. However, a mysterious list of names found among Véronique's effects leads Mara to ask if these individuals are linked to the crime. But how? And why? As Mara seeks answers to these questions, Julian has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to journey to China to solve the riddle of his mystery orchid. Is it the legendary Yong Chun Hua — the flower of eternal youth? To his peril, he soon learns that he is not alone in his quest. As he treks through the mountains of Sichuan piecing together the orchid's dark secret, he soon finds himself in a race for survival against a determined and deadly adversary. In France Mara, comes face to face with the horrendous truth behind Véronique's death. A world apart, these two must somehow help each other to thwart a cunning and ruthless killer.
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Michelle Wan was born in Kunming, China, in the middle of an air raid. She has lived in India, the US, England, Paris, Harare, and Rio de Janeiro. She and her husband, a botanist, travel regularly to the Dordogne to photograph and chart wild orchids. She is the author of three previous novels in the "Death on the Dordogne" series, Deadly Slipper; The Orchid Shroud, and A Twist of Orchids.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It was spring in the glorious Dordogne.
God’s country, Julian Wood called it. He paused in his labours to raise his eyes to a sweep of wooded uplands and high blue sky, then threw his weight onto the spade, turning and lifting soil oozing with life. Mid-fifties, tall and lanky with a salt-and-pepper thatch, a long jaw framed by facial hair in need of trimming, he was a man at peace. A man who had long ago fled the damp cold of England to put down roots in this sunny, rugged corner of southwest France. He loved this place, its fields, its woods, its rumpled hills, its robust earthy wines and especially its hardy, good-humoured farming folk. Sadly, they were giving way to paler generations removed from the land and anxiously trying to squeeze out precarious livings in a département where good jobs were hard to find. A chronically underemployed landscape gardener himself, Julian was sure he contributed to the regional unemployment statistics.
But that was not a problem for today. Today the wisteria dripped like purple rain from the eaves of the houses, irises raised elegant flags against old stone walls, the air was heady with smells. Today was a day to set the old-fashioned annuals that he favoured—wallflowers and pansies—into the warm bosom of the earth.
Until Mara came out of the house with the morning’s post.
“Mostly bills,” she called. “Yours, I’m afraid.”
Julian sighed, relinquishing his spade and his view of sky and forest. Nothing was perfect.
“Can we talk?” said Mara Dunn.
They were seated at the terrace table. He had his glasses on and was sorting through his mail.
“Fire away.” He glanced at a notice from his bank. “Merde.”
“Well,” said Mara, leaning forward on her elbows. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.” And when he did not respond, she added, “About us.”
Mara sighed. She was a small, slim French Canadian with a determined chin and large, intelligent eyes that were at the moment darkly serious.
“You and me. Life together. Do we stay as we are?” She paused, giving him time to absorb the question. “Or do we move on to something—well—more permanent?”
It was risky, where she was going. They were such different people. She, an interior designer, was accustomed to moving space and objects around, shaping everything to a timetable, a budget and a plan. Julian was happiest out of doors, planting and pruning, or rambling through woods and meadows looking for orchids, going nowhere in particular. They had come to the Dordogne by different paths, had met four years ago under peculiar circumstances, and had gone on to live together just as peculiarly in her house in Ecoute-la-Pluie with two dogs and no clear notion of where this would take them. And therein lay the difficulty. Mara needed to know where they were going. Julian did not seem to care.
Now he looked up. Stay as they were? More permanent? Was there a difference?Well, yes, Julian had to conclude, it was a bit awkward, this living out of two places. His cottage in Grissac, twenty minutes down the road (for sale; no buyers, not even any prospects to date), was where he still kept most of his belongings and where he dropped in occasionally to check on things, to pick up the odd phone message (he still kept his land line going; he refused to get a portable) and to collect mail that had not been forwarded to him at Mara’s. These were his Times Out, when he wandered through his poky darkened rooms, touching his books (of which he had a great number), when he gave in to a secret desire to sit idly in his tattered leather armchair (it did not match Mara’s decor), savouring with a sense of poignancy the remembrance of a time when he had actually lived there. But what exactly did she mean? For starters, could he bring his books? And his armchair? His eyes fell on a letter bearing a Canadian stamp. For a moment he thought it must be for her, but no, it had been addressed to him, care of his publisher, his name clearly typed, and redirected to him.
“Sure.” His melancholy features broke into a boyish, lopsided grin. Life was good. He had no objection whatever to things continuing as they were for as long as she liked. “I’m open to that.”
“Of course.” Curious, he tore the envelope open. The letter it contained, postmarked March 25, 2007, had taken thirteen days to reach him.
Dear Mr. Wood,
I don’t know how to contact you directly, so I am asking your publisher, Éditions Arobas, to forward this letter. I have just seen your book on wild orchids of the Dordogne. In it you show a drawing of an unknown Slipper orchid that you call Cypripedium incognitum and that you believe grows locally. I happen to be writing a book on the life of my great-great-great-grandfather, the 19th-century plant hunter, Horatio Kneebone, whose expedition diaries I possess. Amazingly, one of them includes a sketch and description of an orchid that closely resembles your artist’s drawing of C. incognitum!
Mara watched in bemusement as Julian’s jaw went suddenly slack.
Since Horatio had ties to the Dordogne, I think my ancestor might just hold the secret to the origin of this incredible flower. I plan to spend some time in your part of France researching Horatio’s “Dordogne Period,” and I would greatly appreciate a chance to meet you and talk further about what I’m sure is an area of mutual interest. If this suits you, please reply to the address or e-mail shown below.
Charles K. Perry
“Julian,” she burst out, “you do understand I’m talking about marriage!” Immediately she said it she was sorry. It had come out all wrong, sounding like a threat.
“My God!” shouted Julian, whose heart had made a sudden leap.
“Don’t sound so appalled.”
“Appalled?” Julian’s eyes were starry. “I think it’s absolutely brilliant!”
“You do?” said Mara, quite surprised.
Mara said a little sourly after she had read the letter—she had just proposed, hadn’t she? And all he could think of was his orchid—“I don’t suppose he realizes you’ve never seen this flower of yours and that your only proof it exists is an old, very bad photograph and an even older embroidery?”
“Who cares?” Julian snatched the letter back from her and kissed it. “You read what Charles Beautiful K. Perry wrote: his ancestor’s orchid matches mine. There are diary entries on it. That means Cypripedium incognitum is not a phantom, Mara. It has a documented provenance.”
It was true that Julian had never seen, never touched, his mystery orchid. It was totally unknown to him and to the botanical world, for his considerable research had turned up nothing like it. That was what made it so special. It was the bad photograph, brought to him by Mara at their first meeting, that had started it all. The antique embroidery, which had turned up later, showed a clearer representation—a stunning if structurally anomalous flower with a bright pink pouch flanked by blackish-purple, extraordinarily long, twisted lateral petals, and three sepals—not the two normally characteristic of Cypripediums—of the same hue. Since then he had been driven to find it, if truth be known, had lusted for it with all the desperation of an addict. Was it an extremely rare, indigenous species that grew only in an isolated spot in the Dordogne? An import that had managed to survive and propagate? If so, from where, and what was the history of this amazing flower’s journey to his corner of southwest France? Now, out of the blue, he was actually on the verge of having his answer. All that remained was to find the flower itself.
So what was he doing sitting here? It was already April, things were blooming. He lurched involuntarily from his chair, propelled by the same old fear that always swamped him around this time, that a careless hiker or a bulldozer would wipe it out of existence. Worse, that someone else would find the orchid first. His unopened mail fell to the ground.
“You’re worried about Géraud, aren’t you,” Mara observed with perfect comprehension. Living with an orchid freak had taught her to read his moods according to the seasons—spring was always a fraught time—although she had yet to understand his passion. She often wished more of it would find its way to her.
“That poacher!” Géraud Laval was Julian’s arch botanical rival and, after Julian, the Dordogne’s next best orchidologist. A retired pharmacist, he was a temperamental old goat with hairy ears and a habit of shouting. He also had a nasty reputation for acquiring orchids any way he could, which included the unthinkable crime of digging them up in the wild. “He’s an outright menace.” Julian paced restlessly to the edge of the terrace.
“Quite a dilemma,” said Mara with a touch of sarcasm. “Which to do first? Answer Beautiful Charles Perry’s letter, or rush out to find your flower before Géraud does?”
6 April 2007
> Dear Charles,
I’m astounded, intrigued, fascinated, gobsmacked—what can I say? Frankly, the search for C. incognitum has taken over my life since I first found traces of it here in the Dordogne four years ago. Your news is an immense break in the mystery surrounding this incredible flower and I can hardly wait to learn more. Can you send me a copy of your sketch? I’m using a friend’s e-mail, so you can reply to me care of her, Mara Dunn. She informs me you can send me a scan of the drawing. By all means, let’s meet. I can’t tell you how much I welcome ANY information you can give me on C. incognitum.
Yours in anticipation,
Julian Wood <
“A friend’s e-mail?” Mara felt hurt as she read his reply. It was an hour later, and they were in her studio, a converted building behind the house. Julian was at her computer. An initiate to the mysteries of electronic communication, he had to be coached through the process. “What’s wrong with fiancée?” She assumed that’s what they now were.
“For heaven’s sake, Mara,” said Julian, looking alarmed. “That’s personal. I hardly know the man.”
“Delighted,” was Charles Perry’s e-mail response the following day, although he made it clear that he preferred to defer any further exchange on Cypripedium incognitum “until their happy meeting.” He gave an arrival date in a week’s time, said he was in need of a self-catering short-term rental while he carried out his research in the region, and could Julian suggest anything? Absolutely, Julian fired back. His own cottage at a knock-down price. The offer was accepted. Perry insisted on paying a deposit.
“That’s settled then,” Julian said.
“He likes playing hard-to-get, don’t you think?” Mara sniffed. Until their happy meeting indeed.
“Oh, I expect he’s just being careful. After all, he doesn’t know what he’s getting into.”
Mara forbore to comment, eyes wandering to the windows. Outside, a wind was building up, forerunner of those spring storms that blew in so quickly over the land. Once again, they were at her computer. Around them lay the detritus of her trade: architectural bits and pieces, old doors, a chimney hook, a collection of fanciful épis—the finials that decorated the roof ends of old houses—remnants she had salvaged from wrecking sites, junk shops and flea markets. The clutter, however, had its purpose. Everything would one day find its way into her many clients’ re-remodelled environments.
A flash of lightning split the sky with an electrifying crack. Bismuth, Julian’s rangy grey-speckled mutt, offspring of Edith the local pointer bitch, gave a howl of anguish and shot under the desk. He was terrified of thunder. Another dog, Jazz, Mara’s tan-and-white pit bull and also Bismuth’s sire, snored windily beside a roll of salvaged carpet.
“I wonder what you’ll do,” she mused.
“Court him, of course. Coax, screw, squeeze out of him everything and anything he can give me on Cypripedium incognitum.”
“I mean, what you’ll do if you ever find your orchid.”
“You mean when I find it!” Julian declared. “Stand the botanical world on its ear, what do you think. Then throw the biggest blowout this side of Brives. You do realize that the discovery of an unknown orchid ranks up there with finding a new solar system?”
“Oh sure. But after that?” She paused, dark, straight brows drawing together in a velvet line of frustration. Rain was beginning to slash against the windowpanes. “This flower has ruled your life for as long as I’ve known you. It makes me wonder. Once you find it, once the mystery is solved, what then? Will it be over?”
“Will what be over?”
“I mean, will you be able to let it go? Or will you just look for something else to fill the gap?”
He said a little anxiously, “This isn’t about how much time I spend looking for it, is it?” She had complained about that. She had complained about a lot of things.
“No.” Mara pulled her cardigan a little tighter around her. The studio was inadequately heated. “It’s about the lure of the unattainable.” Which I’m not, she thought ruefully. I’m Mara, available, on the downhill slide of forty-five, irrationally in love with an orchid maniac who thinks more about botany than he does me. “And the fact that you’re impossibly romantic. Where orchids are concerned, at least.”
“Hey,” he teased, seeing where she was coming from, “not jealous of a flower, are you?” And when she did not respond, he said earnestly, “Oh, come on, Mara. Surely you understand what a break like this means to me.” He threw his head back gloatingly. “God, I can’t wait to get my hands on Kneebone’s diary. I can’t wait to meet Charles Perry. I wonder what he’s like.”
She gazed at him sadly. “You sound like a man waiting for a mail-order bride. Maybe I should be jealous.”
“Not a chance.” He rose from the desk, drew her to him and kissed her on the nose. His face broke into its crooked, heart-tugging smile. “But if he brings me information on Cypripedium incognitum, I’ll have to love him, won’t I? Just a little bit?”
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Book Description Doubleday Canada, 2010. Hardcover. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110385664869
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Book Description Doubleday Canada, 2010. Hardcover. Condition: New. BRAND NEW BOOK!! SHIPS WITHIN 24 HOURS! Tracking Provided. DHL processing & USPS delivery for an average of 3-5 Day Standard & 2-3 Day Expedited! FREE INSURANCE! Fast & Personal Support! Careful Packaging. No Hassle, Full Refund Return Policy!. Seller Inventory # mon0000456763
Book Description Doubleday Canada, 2010. Hardcover. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0385664869