Michelle Wan

Mara Dunn / Julian Wood - Amateur Sleuth /Orchid Expert, Dordogne, France

"Deadly Slipper"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie OCT 30, 2005)

"For the first time in her life, she had an inkling of her sister's mind, the passion that ruled true amateurs, motivating them to spend countless hours bending at the waist, as Julian had said, all for the sake of discovering and documenting the existence of a single flower or the breeding ground of a particular species."

Deadly Slipper by Michelle Wan

Beatrice "Bede" Dunn became fascinated with wild orchids when she got a summer job with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. They sent her to the Bruce Peninsula to map orchids. She spent three months there, wandering around the woodlands, doing some serious hiking and camping-out. When she returned in the fall with fifty rolls of film, she had a new avocation - wild orchid hunting. Bede became passionate about "documenting the existence of a single flower or the breeding ground of a particular species." In 1984 she and her boyfriend, Scott, went on a hiking holiday in the Dordogne region of southwestern France. When it began to rain, the couple had an argument about whether to leave their camp and seek shelter elsewhere or to stay put. Bede was adamant about remaining and so she did - alone. When Scott returned two days later the tent and their things were still at the campsite, but Bede was gone, along with her camera, backpack, Michelin guide and a book on wildflowers and orchids. No one ever saw the young woman again. After a massive search and investigation, which garnered much publicity, no evidence of foul play was discovered, no body, no crime scene.

Mara Dunn, Bede's identical twin, has never resigned herself to the loss of her sister. She moved to the Dordogne after her divorce became final and went into the interior design business, all the while maintaining contact with the police. Nothing concrete, however, was found concerning the disappearance. During an antique hunting expedition in a near-by town, Mara discovered an old Canon camera in a pile of junk. She noticed it immediately, even though the case was mildewed and worn, because it was identical to the cameras her parents had given her and her sister for their high school graduation. She was sure it was the camera her sister had traveled to France with. Inside the case the initials "B. D." were written, and inside the camera was an undeveloped roll of film. Damaged by time and dampness, but still viable, thirty-four photographs were revealed upon development, of wild orchids and a dovecote, taken in what appears to be the local landscape. Mara is convinced the photographs document her sibling's final days.

Now, almost twenty years after Bede vanished, Mara, with the photographs in hand, makes yet another effort to find her sister, or her remains. Julian Wood is an English expatriate living in Dordogne and an expert on wild orchids. He is also the author of "Wildflowers of the Dordogne/ Fleurs sauvages de la Dordogne," and the man Mara wants to assist her. She asks him to help her retrace her sister's footsteps using the photographs as a guide. Julian is skeptical about turning up anything new on the missing person. He doesn't really want to get involved and he doesn't care much for pushy, intense women. Besides, the police have copies of the photographs and don't seem very excited by them. When Julian views the final picture though, he becomes agitated and as motivated to begin a search as Mara, but for different reasons. The photo is of a Cypripedium - Sabot de Venus in French, sometimes called Lady's Slipper in English. And since this rare wild orchid does not grow in the Dordogne, or anywhere in Europe, he has his own mystery to unravel - if he decides to become involved with Mara and her investigation.

Not only is Deadly Slipper a good literary mystery, it is really a fun book to read. Filled with an exotic cast of characters - from the local bogeyman and his mother, who is even scarier than her son, to the bizarre Sauvignac family, (the local nobility), to Julian Wood's fanatic orchid hunting nemesis and competitor, and the regulars down at Chez Nous, the town's cafe/bar/gourmet restaurant, plus a French police inspector and his lads, these personages all enrich the narrative. The horticulture tidbits are fascinating, and I'm no gardener. The description of food, wine, the gorgeous countryside - c'est tres magnifique! The setting IS France! There is even some romancing going on in between gruesome discoveries. You cannot go wrong, especially if you're looking for something different in sleuthing.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 8 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Deadly Slipper at Doubleday

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About the Author:

Michelle WanMichelle Wan was born in Kunming, China, grew up in the United States, and has lived in India, England, France, and Brazil. She and her husband, a tropical horticulturalist, visit the Dordogne annually to photograph and chart wild orchids. They live in Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

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