The "John Lea" Letter
The First Four Books
Sylvaine Soupene and Her Bar-Tabac
The Bar-Tabac at Miendrac, like many in the villages of the Midi-Pyrénées, is dusty, functional, dated. It survives only because, amongst the vineyards of the undulating countryside, there is nowhere else to have a drink and buy cigarettes. It was not always like this. When Jimmy and Helen Ross first knew it in the 1980s, the Bar-Tabac was modern, clean, busy, its terrace colourful with flowers. The owner was a reserved, middle-aged woman, who provided a service that was as quietly efficient as her appearance was elegant. The decline of the bar started when she retired. By chance, Jimmy learns that she has been in hospital for some weeks. On impulse, he decides to visit her, for old times’ sake, even though he had never known her name. She is cautiously pleased to see him and gives him the impression she would like him to call again. He does, and by degrees he and Helen are drawn into the sick woman’s affairs, discovering secrets of the unusual life she has lived, all because of her Bar-Tabac.
Louis Peyre defender of reputations
Most days of the week, Louis Peyre is to be seen idling on the square at Miendrac, a straw hat pulled low to shadow his mutilated face, his large white hands crossed behind his back. Invariably he whistles tunelessly to himself through his shattered teeth. He could be just another retired peasant in the French Midi, but that is not so, because nobody speaks to him. At least not until Jimmy Ross, known in the village as Jee-mee L’Anglais, breaks that sacrosanct embargo. Louis is troubled, not because Jimmy has ignored local convention, but because of the subject he raises. He has asked about an episode in the post-war tensions of long ago, which Louis wants to be kept secret to protect the people involved. At first he refuses to say anything, but on reflection later, he decides that Jimmy being the kind of inquisitive person he is reputed to be, it would be best to help him discover the truth. As a result, the two men and their wives, even though they are so different, come to know and respect each other better, and the secret into which Jimmy is admitted, step by step, surprises him in ways he had never anticipated.
Rose Gasquet and the Daily Bread
Sitting on the village square at Miendrac in South West France, Jimmy Ross watches villagers pass by, each of them carrying a baguette. He has always taken such sights for granted, but a casual remark from Louis Peyre, the retired baker seated next to him, makes him realise that the availability locally of the traditional French loaf has always been precarious. When he first came to live in the village, there were two struggling bakeries, and that was before the wealthiest family decided to it should extend its monopoly to include the bakery trade. Jimmy sets himself to write the story of the rivalry and struggle to survive which has shaped the lives of the Boulangers, their families and many other villagers too.
Jimmy Ross and the Unknown
Because he is irritated by the number of recent times he has been asked if he is to be cremated, Jimmy Ross complains snappishly when he is asked the same question yet again. In explanation of why the question has been put it him so often, he is told about the recently improved Garden of Remembrance, in the Cemetery at Miendrac, the village in the Midi-Pyrenees where he and Helen, his wife, live. Because cremation and the existence of a Jardin du Souvenir are an innovation locally, Jimmy decides, more or less on impulse, to visit the Cemetery, not least because his experience has been that whenever he goes there he learns something new. This occasion is no exception. Not only does he find the Garden of Remembrance he has never seen before, but he also discovers a plaque on the memorial wall, commemorating someone who is obviously English, who is unknown to him, and who would appear to have been an author. Being the inquisitive person he is, Jimmy sets about trying to identify the unknown writer. As he makes his enquiries, not at all seriously at first, Jimmy finds he has unwittingly allowed himself to be drawn into a mystery with potentially criminal consequences, which, as they become increasingly apparent, implicate him.
You can now hold your breath while waiting for number 5 to be published shortly - :-) :-) :-).
© Liverpool Collegiate Old Boys' Association (2018)