In the French Riviera, members of high-society are getting ready to celebrate Bastille Day 1939 at Villa Sanary. Housekeeper Margot Bisset is asked to be a part of the evening’s entertainment by helping stage a fake murder. Her employer said it would be oh so much fun for the guests, which was to include the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Coco Chanel. But when the pretend victim is actually murdered, Margot is convicted and sent to prison, clearly set up to take the fall for a real and intended crime. At Fresnes Prison she meets Joséphine Murant, a member of the Resistance, convicted for working for a clandestine newsletter Liberté in Nazi occupied France. Josephine believes Margot's claim that she was wrongly convicted and vows to help her new friend once they are released. In 1942 they are sent to Germany to serve as forced labor at the notorious Phrix Rayon Factory where the conditions are deadly. Josephine documents her experiences while imprisioned.
The story shifts to present times. Joséphine, a celebrated crime/thriller writer, has recently passed away. When a retrospective exhibit of her life is planned, Joséphine’s great-nephew’s widow Evie Black becomes part of the planning. Along with historian Clément Tazi, they find a diary Joséphine kept while in prison. They also search for a manuscript of Joséphine’s first novel, which had been rejected and never published. Evie and Clément are intrigued by Margot’s story and Josephine’s belief in her innocence. They soon piece together surprising revelations.
The French Gift is a well-written, captivating story that brings the reader into the beautiful world of the Côte d’Azur and the horrors of captivity during the Nazi occupation. I enjoy author Kirsty Manning’s style of storytelling which provides a compelling mystery from the past that is uncovered in the present day. While she includes the grim realities of wartime, there is also a look into the world of the wealthy as well as a burgeoning love story. Inspired by the story of Agnes Humbert, this fast-paced book clearly required a great deal of research but it doesn't make you feel like you’re getting a history lesson. It delivers an excellent combination of heartbreak and hopefulness.
Rated 4.25 out of 5 stars.
Publication Date: November 2, 2021.
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