Cézanne's Quarry

Cézanne's Quarry

by Barbara Corrado Pope

A young woman is found murdered ...and the clues to her death point to her spurned lover, Paul Cezanne.

In this richly atmospheric novel, a mysterious young woman named Solange Vernet arrives in Aix-en-Provence with her lover, a Darwinian scholar named Charles Westbury, and a year later is found strangled in a quarry outside the city.

Many of the more conservative residents of Aix, including Martin's own police investigator, believe that Solange reaped what she sowed for entertaining such radical scientific theories.

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In Law and Order in the sense that an episode of LO takes about one hour but covers about 3 moths and time becomes hard t grasp which is the opposite of Cezannes Quarry. Pope creates in her characters this ying and yang aspect in which they are two opposites at the same time. The final aspect of Cezanes Quarry that I found fascinating was the character of Franc.

Martin knows what it is to be a charity case at school, funded by rich relatives after his father died and his mother begged them for help. As the youngest judge in Aix-en-Provence in August of 1885, he got only the throwaway cases other judges didn't want but a plum assignment lands in his lap when an ambitious police inspector Albert Franc (a creep in every possible way imaginable) beings him the case of the murder of an intelligent and remarkable yet mysterious woman Solange Vernet (a most delicious name) who is found raped and murdered at the rock quarry. Was it her lover Charles Westbury who had found love letters to her in their home from Paul Cezanne and had his first fight with her over them the day before? Was it Paul Cezanne himself who she intended to toy with then turn down once he loved her as revenge for him not helping her long ago as a teenager being raped and who had become obsessed with her? Or was it the cop who raped her so long ago, now trying to preserve his new identity? He abuses Westbury in jail and is even getting free meals at a new restaurant in town in exchange for "protection." There is also painful realism about the way the religious treat people like Solange, Westbury, and the poor.

Underlying the case, and running as a theme throughout the novel, is the French criminal justice system in the late 1900s, the terrifying prospect of being a woman with little means at the turn of the century, and the battle between science and religion. In addition to a murder mystery (or two, or three), she gives readers a primer on French law and the country's difficulties choosing between religion and science. I also don't know much about the French law system, but it seems like it was fairly unjust at the time. As to the rest of the characters- Westerbury, Cezanne, Hortense and Franc- they all annoyed me. I think in some ways the multiple points of view worked for the author as we got to see many characters in different lights- Cezanne, for example, is presented as very conflicted, depressed and ultimately run-down man.

She also speaks out strongly about the rape of young working women as a common societal occurrence.

About forty years ago I was an American studying French in Aix in a summer program and I had drinks in a café called "Les Deux Garçons" in honor of Cézanne and Zola, who grew up there.

For me, what makes a mystery novel great is not a cleverly-constructed case with a surprising solution (though that helps), but rather a compelling detective figure.

Cezanne's Quarry is a good historical mystery with a surprising suspect.

Solange is discovered strangled at the bottom of a quarry.

Her longest stint was at the University of Oregon, where she was the founding director of womens studies.