Great review from Library Journal in the USA:
"Penelope Kite is fed up with her ex-husband, his ungrateful adult children, and the badly behaved grandchildren. A rundown house in Provence is a perfect escape. She envisions problems with French bureaucracy and slow workers but does not expect a dead man in her swimming pool, a persistent estate agent, or a sexy mayor. The French police may see a middle-aged British woman, but Penelope’s background at the British Home Office, where she was the assistant to a forensic pathologist, taught her to evaluate a corpse and weapons. Penelope is shrewder than the police or her new neighbors think she is. The charming, leisurely paced mystery is filled with details of food, customs, and history in the small village of St. Merlot, with the atmospheric setting and nostalgic tone providing a strong sense of place. VERDICT While the quirky characters are enjoyable, it’s the details of Provençal life that will attract armchair travelers, fans of Peter Mayle, Frances Mayes, or even David P. Wagner’s Italy-set “Rick Montoya” mysteries."
—Lesa Holstine, Evansville Vanderburgh P.L., IN
A terrific review from KIRKUS
"An Englishwoman abroad seeks repose but finds murder.
"Pity all those recently divorced cozy heroines who must fend for themselves financially by opening bookshops or offering bus tours. Penelope Kite is luckier. Shedding her chronically unfaithful husband, David, leaves her with enough cash to purchase a house in Provence. In buying Le Chant d’Eau in the tiny town of St. Merlot, Penelope envisions quiet afternoons looking out at the tranquil Luberon Valley with a carafe of rosé at her elbow—just as soon as she gets the water and electricity running, tames the overgrown garden, and cleans the years of grime and cracked plaster from the walls and floor. Fortunately, Agence Hublot, the local realty company, takes an expansive view of their portfolio, and realtor Clémence Valencourt supplies Penelope with an electrician, a plumber, and a gardener as well as frequent advice about what a good Frenchwoman would eat, wear, and say. She also introduces Penelope to Pierre Louchard, a neighbor who doesn’t usually like foreigners but who invites her for a glass of plum brandy anyway. Unfortunately, Clémence’s expertise stops short of murder. So when Penelope’s initial effort at restoring Le Chant d’Eau’s swimming pool to its former glory turns up the body of local lowlife Manuel Avore, chic Clémence directs her new friend to her old friend, mayor Laurent Millais, who’s more approachable than surly police chief Georges Reyssens. The more enmeshed she becomes in village life, the more Penelope sparkles, turning what could have been a lightweight Shirley Temple into champagne.
"Although Kent makes no promises, updates on her heroine’s further adventures would be most welcome."
Superb review from the Lancashire Evening Post:
"Set against a stunning backdrop of ancient churches, crumbling fortresses, orchards, vineyards and quaint streets, Death in Provence has all the perfect ingredients for a reading escape… quirky characters, an irresistible sense of fun, an intriguing mystery, and more twists and turns than a Provençal mountain track.
"Serena Kent blends Agatha Christie with Peter Mayle in an atmospheric, well-plotted story rich in action, drama and dogged detective work, and simply oozing Gallic charm. Penelope Kite’s new life and crime adventures in this enchanting corner of Provence are a delight for all crime fans, and will have Francophiles heading for the book shop… and maybe looking to book their next holiday in the delectable – but sadly fictional – village of St Merlot!"
The mystery of Penelope Kite's money
How can Penelope Kite afford to live in Provence? It’s been bothering some early readers of Death in Provence, and I think that’s great because it shows they are really trying to imagine her enviable new life in the sun. So while discretion usually applies to financial matters, I can’t allow the vexing question of Penelope’s money to overshadow the other mysteries in the books.
In fact, the answers are all there in the book – though subtly present, like all the best clues.
For more than twenty years, Penelope was married to David, a solicitor – later, partner – in a law firm that specialised in City of London transactions. In London “the City” is shorthand for banks and large companies, the US equivalent of “Wall Street”. It is quite conceivable that David would have earned several million pounds a year from the mergers and acquisitions and share issues he worked on, and equally possible that Penelope’s divorce settlement, after a long marriage, would have reflected this at £5-10 million.
Penelope owns a house in Esher, Surrey, an affluent suburb in leafy south-west London. It might have once been the family house. A spacious five-bedroom house in Esher currently costs £2-3 million, perhaps more.
But let’s err on the side of caution and say that Penelope bought a smaller house in Bolingbroke Drive after the divorce. Even that would most likely be worth more than £1 million. When she moves to the south of France, she rents it out. A quick look at rental prices for a well-presented three-bedroom house in the area shows that she could make £3000-4000 a month. That alone would be a very decent amount for a single person to live on.
But there’s more. Penelope is an only child. Both her parents have passed away. No further details are given in the first book, but it’s revealed in the next that Penelope’s father was a doctor, a GP and police surgeon, and that the family lived in Bromley, another leafy suburb of south London. Penelope would have inherited her parents’ entire estate, including a house that could easily have been worth £2 million, and other investments.
Penelope can well afford to buy a run-down farmhouse in the Luberon with a realistic asking price of around €800,000, which converts to c. £700,000. She can also afford substantial renovation work, along with croissants, bottles of rosé and new clothes – and the “nearly-new” Range Rover she buys for the hilly Provençal roads.
Fairly early on in Death in Provence, Penelope sees the red Ferrari that keeps popping up on the local roads and muses about where she fits into the social scale: ‘There was an interesting mix of people here in August, she thought: happy holidaymakers from northern Europe; artists and photographers; walkers and cyclists; the farming community; the butchers and bakers and candlestick makers who gave so much pleasure to everyday life; and some extremely rich people – Parisians and Swiss and Americans - staying at their second homes. Penelope wondered if people would assume she was rich. She didn’t think she was. Comfortably off, perhaps. And, for the first time in her life, reckless with a lump sum.’
Penelope doesn’t see herself as belonging to the Ferrari-driving classes. But, like most well brought-up, conventional British women, she is being discreet about her own wealth - which many might consider substantial.