leon ritter, a pathologist in provence

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Leon suddenly felt lost in his musty rental car like an astronaut in outer space. Maybe this idea of living in France was bullshit. He should have listened to his inner voice. Sure, the offer sounded tempting: Médecin légiste, forensic expert and pathologist, at the clinic in Hyères. It sounded like palm trees, the sea and cool rosé wine on the beach at sunset. You’re a bloody dreamer, Leon thought, be a realist for once. What’s so great here? It’s hot, the people are unreliable, you get ripped off with the rental car, and there aren’t even real rolls for breakfast. He would surely rue the day he said yes to the job. …
And because Leon had grown up bilingual as the son of a French teacher and a German biology professor and had also studied for a few semesters in Paris at the University of Descartes, he also spoke almost accent-free French. The offer the clinic had made him sounded tempting. He would mainly have to deal with routine examinations and could continue to work in parallel on his study, with which he wanted to habilitate one day. …
If he was honest, it wasn’t about the job at all. That was not the real reason why he had accepted. He had signed because he was fed up. He wanted to get away from Frankfurt, away from all those who constantly inquired about his health, away from his little house in the Taunus, which was full of memories of Sarah. She was no longer there, she was dead. He finally had to get rid of the past. Hell not even, he was 48 years old, you have the right to start over. The job offer in Provence seemed to Leon like a twist of fate, like a departure into another world. That was exactly what he was really looking for: a new life.

from: Tödlicher Lavendel

About Living in the Lovely Provence

Dr Leon Ritter – Leon that is – experiences a Provence that everyone dreams of. There is the good food and the iced fresh rosé, the ever-blue sky and the warm sun, the sea, the view over the sea from the mountains … Everything goes its way – with Provençal slowness.

Boule players meet in front of the café and Leon is allowed to join in. The café has charm and Leon is enchanted by it: just the right place for a café or a noisette now and then. Leon makes friends. There are the tourists, of course, who can be a bit of a nuisance, but leave good money behind – and as the summer draws to a close, the hordes thin out noticeably and disappear.

Leon soon enjoys reinventing his life. Surprisingly, he inherits a small vineyard from his aunt (see the French ancestors!) and decides to make the associated summer house habitable again … and dreams of wine from his own vineyard.

I was delighted to once again read a French crime series produced in Germany and to be able to dream of the South of France. Who wouldn’t want to spend a few weeks on holiday in the sunny, fun-loving south – or even live there, work a bit and, above all, enjoy the French dolce far niente with wine, olives and fresh baguettes? I can’t imagine Leon ever wanting to go back to grey Frankfurt …

… but then there’s a little problem: not everything is as beautiful and idyllic as it seems! Leon is, after all, a forensic pathologist …

In Provence, it is not only pickpockets who are active among the tourists, it is not only bicycles that are stolen here and there or cigarettes that are smuggled. There are dead bodies, ugly dead bodies, many dead bodies.

Right at the beginning of the novel series, a girl goes missing – not so unusual for the police, because it is high season and little girls get lost, stay with friends they played with during the last days of holiday … But then the body of the girl is found – somewhere in the mountains, where little girls have no business.

The police, i.e. the chief of police of Le Lavandou (characteristic of all novels!) would like to quickly put the case to rest: the little girl got lost, walked further and further into the mountains instead of going back to the campsite. Then it got dark and she fell, fell hard, hit her head and died. The police chief doesn’t want any fuss, any commotion, because tourists bring money and mustn’t be disturbed – just no child murderer in Le Lavandou!

Leon puts a spoke in his wheel. Although he has only been there one day and is actually still on holiday – involuntarily, as the Provençal mentality has caused appointments to be missed at the clinic – Leon carries out an autopsy on the body and discovers that the girl has been murdered. Then the next girl disappears …

Leon can’t help it and starts investigating himself – to the annoyance of the police chief. Well: Leon is intelligent, has ideas and can analyse and combine facts; he is, after all, one of the best pathologists. Leon always digs deep, sometimes overshoots the mark, but in the end he always finds the culprit and the motive.

It’s the same with the missing young women Leon has to deal with in the next novel. After that, he is confronted with a series of horribly mutilated corpses … and then again missing children … The cases always rely to a past, which the police are only too happy to ignore, but which Leon usually painstakingly unravels and which holds surprising insights. Yes – the novels are exciting!

But the police force consists not only of the chief of police, but also of his deputy, Capitaine Isabelle Morell, who, with her team, is more inclined to investigate and investigate. As luck would have it, Leon, in search of a place to stay, comes across Isabelle as soon as he arrives, who occasionally rents out a room in her house. (This is also a consequence of the Provençal flair: due to the busy schedule at the clinic, no accommodation had been booked for Leon – in the middle of the high season!)

Isabelle is divorced and has a teenage daughter who is always up to nonsense – like all teenagers – and knows everything better than her mum – like all teenagers. The provisional overnight solution soon becomes a solid one; Isabelle and Leon grow closer and closer … Finally, no one talks about Leon moving out again. Both also enjoy the togetherness on Leon’s vineyard, which Leon renovates step by step.

No happiness remains unclouded, because the crimes spill over into the family idyll: Isabelle’s daughter becomes the target of the perpetrators, Isabelle is threatened and Leon, too, has to show that he, at 48, is still fit enough to save Isabelle and her daughter.

The lovely Provence is also sometimes quite inhospitable and dangerous. Dry summers cause forest fires, heavy rainfall causes flooding – and in the middle of it all Leon is on the hunt for the culprits. He has to endure a lot in his investigations and does not always return to his home without injuries.

Overall, the series is a perfect mix of German thoroughness and science, Provençal La Dolce Vita, lightness and holiday dreams, gruesome crimes, French nepotism, friendship and love, forces of nature and action.

I enjoyed reading the novels and being whisked away to the enchanting south of France, where not everything is so tranquil – but probably not as action-driven as in the novels either! (But then they are novels!).

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a faint cold fear thrills through my veins ... william shakespeare