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The French Gift: A Novel of World War II Paris    by Kirsty Manning order for
French Gift
by Kirsty Manning
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2021 (2021)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Kirsty Manning's The French Gift combines an intriguing historical tale (involving horrific experiences in German work camps) with a cold case mystery. It opens at a party in a French Riviera villa (attended by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor) in 1939, when maid Margot Bisset is set up by her employer to take the fall for murder. She's told to fire a pistol in the air for a faux murder party game - but an American heiress dies.

We fast forward to an obituary announcing the death of renowned mystery author Josephine Murant at age 100. She had been arrested during the German occupation and shared a cell with the infamous Margot Bisset. They were later shipped to Germany and forced to work at the notorious Phryx Rayon Factory, where Bisset died in a workplace accident. Murant had once declared Bisset 'innocent of any wrongdoing.'

Next we meet Murant's grand-niece (by marriage) Evie Black. She lives in Paris with her teen son Hugo and mourns her husband Raphael. After Evie receives a letter from historian Clement Tazi asking for help in putting together an exhibition on Murant's life, she and Hugo go to Josephine's Villa Sanary (the very same one where the murder happened). Evie works with Clement and they draw close to one another.

They find a book, filled with annotations - and surprising revelations. To understand Josephine better, they research Margot's case. The novel alternates between their work; Evie's happy memories of time spent with Josephine and Raph; Josephine's own past memories; as well as those of Margot, and what her relationship with Josephine meant to her. The ending is stunning - and highly satisfying!

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