Coq au Vin

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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The heroine of Coq au Vin is the same irrepressible African American saxophonist who captivated readers in Rhode Island Red (1997). Nanette Hayes is no less captivating in Charlotte Carter’s second book. Moreover, while Nanette did her earlier sleuthing in New York, this time she is in Paris, where she lived years before, and which has such intense associations for her that the city might well be listed among the major characters in the novel.

Nanette’s purpose for going to Paris, however, is not to revisit her old haunts or to deplore the fact that, as it turns out, so many of them have disappeared, but to locate her favorite aunt, Vivian Hayes, who is evidently in trouble, and to hand over to her the inheritance that Nanette’s mother has been holding until “Viv” turns up.

In Paris, Nanette meets and promptly falls in love with Andre, a black expatriate and a jazz violinist, who is only too happy to accompany her to jazz clubs, where they find Viv’s friends and lovers but no trace of her. After the murder of the gangster Gigi Lacroix, whom she had hired to help find Viv, Nanette begins to suspect that her aunt has some knowledge of past criminal activities and that the same killers who have sent her into hiding will now come after her and probably also after Andre.

The lovers do manage to survive several brushes with death. However, by the end of this suspenseful novel, Carter’s heroine has had to face some difficult truths about Viv and also about her own capacity for commitment.