Book Review: A Rather Lovely Inheritance, by C.A. Belmond
A Rather Lovely Inheritance, by C.A. Belmond (Penguin Group, New York, 2007), straddles the line between genre fiction and literature with the grace and elegance of an acrobat on the tightrope. This novel provides the excitement of a mystery story and the joy of a romantic tale through writing of the highest literary standards. Belmond is an award winning scriptwriter, as well as a published poet, lyricist, essayist, and short fiction writer. She has traveled extensively through Western Europe, including time spent as the writer-in-residence at the Karolyi Foundation in the South of France. This experience shines through in her debut novel. It is an example of literary excellence because of its interesting and well developed characters, richly detailed settings, and beautifully crafted language, in spite of an unoriginal plot.
Penny Nichols is working as a historical researcher on a low-budget film in France when her great aunt Penelope dies. Penny’s mother and father, who currently live in Connecticut but are originally from England and France respectively, ask Penny to represent them at the reading of the will since she’s already in the area. This begins a whirlwind international adventure. As Penny uncovers old family secrets, readers uncover a believable and likable girl behind the cute name. Belmond creates a very relatable character in Penny. She has real human weaknesses, especially in her relationships with men, and yet she is very clever in her area of expertise. This is a character with layers and nuance.
Jeremy, Penny’s British cousin, is also a major player in the story. Belmond does a superb job of highlighting the cultural differences between Jeremy and Penny without making either one into a cliché stereotype. As they work together to solve the mysteries uncovered by great aunt Penelope’s will the story becomes reminiscent of black and white detective films such as The Thin Man and The Saint. Ms. Belmond admits to being inspired by Raymond Chandler but there is also an element of Margery Allingham and Agatha Christie in her writing. While Belmond’s novel is contemporary, there is a definite air of nostalgia about it.
The reason it is so reminiscent to the films, at least as much as to books of a similar nature, is Belmond’s visual writing style. Her descriptions are rich with many sensory details but they most strongly invoke vision. For example, “We had to drive up, up, up to reach it, weaving through ancient shady village streets, climbing past steep medieval walls spilling over with bougainvillea, freesia,…and rose, forming a beautiful red, white, and pink profusion of flowers…” (79-80). She crafts scenes that are so vivid the reader could step inside them. There is an authentic quality to her writing that imparts the experience of a European tour. It is this quality of experience that pulls the reader along, even when the path of the plot has become clear. It is the sense of a real experience completed with main characters that are as deep and interesting as actual friends that leaves the reader satisfied in the end.
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