The Orchid Shroud
Michelle Wan
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Buy *The Orchid Shroud* by Michelle Wan online

The Orchid Shroud
Michelle Wan
352 pages
August 2007
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Fresh from their adventures in Michelle Wan's Deadly Slipper, French Canadian interior designer Mara Dunn and orchidologist Julian Wood are back in another complex and multifaceted mystery involving mysterious orchids, legendary werewolves, and feuding branches of an ancient French aristocratic family.

While employed to renovate the upper floor of Chistophe de Bonford's grandiloquent Aurillac Manor, Mara and her workmen stumble upon a human baby, preserved for over a hundred years by the cold, airless environment of a wall. The child is swaddled in a covering of faded blue silk and its arms are crossed upon its breast, clutching a rosary as if suspended in prayer.

Chistophe de Bonford is absolutely appalled at the discovery, mainly because he is about to publish a luxury edition book of his glorious family history. With a dead baby turning up to be explained, the scandal threatens to perpetually tarnish the reputation of his patrician ancestors.

Mara is determined to discover the identity of the child nicknamed "Baby Blue." The biggest surprise, however, is when the image of Julian's elusive Lady Slipper orchid is found intricately woven into the baby's silk covering. It's a flower of the most sinister beauty and the orchid that Bedie, Mara's sister, had photographed before she was killed.

Enthused by the discovery, the two amateur sleuths begin to unravel the mystery of this baffling orchid and its link to the arcane flesh of the de Bonfords. As the clues gradually disentangle, Mara and Julian discover the brittle bones of old money embodying the house and learn of the stiffened sinews of class and privilege dating back centuries.

Looking for answers, Mara turns to historian-genealogist Jean-Claude Fournier, who recently helped Chistophe with the research for his book. But poor Mara becomes the prime suspect when Jean-Claude is discovered at the bottom of his balcony, horrifically murdered.

When a sanglier baiter is killed and half-eaten by some kind of wild animal, the area really goes into lock-down. Perhaps there is a wild dog or a wolf on the loose, or as some would have it, a loup-garou, a legendary werewolf that has reportedly lived in the valley for centuries.

Michelle Wan once again has written a compelling mystery, weaving some of the most beautiful descriptions of the bucolic and varied Dordogne region of southwestern France into her narrative. Although, at times the novel is a bit too heavily plotted, the story is always engaging, and the tension is effectively maintained throughout.

The anxiety mounts as Mara ultimately finds herself framed for Jean-Claude's murder, Chistophe inexplicably goes into hiding, and there are the rumors of the return of the Sigoulane Beast, the legendary werewolf that allegedly terrorized the area during the 1700s and 1800s.

Julian and Mara are certain that the nefarious doings are all somehow linked to the de Bonford family. This family's history is mired in extra-marital affairs, incest, and sordid family secrets stretching all the way back to the 1770s.

As Mara and Julian draw closer the to the true identity of Baby Blue and the clandestine motives of the de Bonford's are made clear, the two discover that their lives are forever linked to the deadly beauty of the Lady's Slipper.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2006

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