The Matinée Murders, the newest in Jeannette de Beauvoir’s Sydney Riley series of mystery novels, may be a work of fiction, but it is full of real people and takes place in a town that we know and love.
In it, Sydney, our protagonist, a wedding planner with a knack for the macabre, investigates a series of murders that occur during the Provincetown International Film Festival. The festival is put on by the Provincetown Film Society in mid-June, and many screenings are held at the Waters Edge Cinema, which the society owns, in Whaler’s Wharf. In the process of tracking down the killer, Sydney runs into such real-life personages as Lady Di, the popular WOMR DJ; accountant Chip Capelli; and Whaler’s Wharf owner Ben deRuyter.
Not to worry: you are unlikely to happen on your name hidden within these pages. De Beauvoir says she always asks permission before immortalizing her friends in paper and ink, and never makes them the murderer or victim.
“Some have joked that I am Provincetown’s Jessica Fletcher,” she says with a chuckle, referring to the detective played by Angela Lansbury in the long-running TV series Murder, She Wrote, “and, at some point, I’ll have to go somewhere else, because I’ll have murdered everybody!”
Though the film festival ended up being canceled this year due to the pandemic, de Beauvoir’s book launch, originally scheduled to be part of it, is marching forward. It will take place virtually, via Zoom on Friday, May 29, hosted by East End Books Ptown. To tune in, visit the bookstore’s Facebook page. There will be a reading, giveaways, and other surprises. Fifty percent of signed book sales (online at eastendbooksptown.com) will go to the Provincetown Film Society to benefit Waters Edge Cinema.
Indeed, the cancellation of the film fest lends the book an extra dose of unreality, an irony not lost on de Beauvoir herself. “If a murder happens during a festival that doesn’t take place,” she says, “is the person still dead?”
But that doesn’t overly concern de Beauvoir. Her Provincetown murder mysteries are meant to be escapist entertainment, she says, and not stories that mirror real life.
So, who is Jeannette de Beauvoir? Her name, perhaps surprisingly, is not a nom de plume. Regarding her relation to the feminist theorist Simone, of the same last name, de Beauvoir says, coyly, “I don’t know that we’re related, but I also don’t know that we’re not.”
Half French, half American, she grew up in Angers, a city in western France, but also lived in Cambridge and Montreal before settling in Provincetown. At first, she enjoyed quiet winters here, then moved in full-time 12 years ago. “My first summer, I walked down Commercial Street and wondered what I had gotten myself into,” she says, “as I tend to be a pretty solitary person.”
And being introverted by nature, she says her life “hasn’t changed all that dramatically” since the pandemic. While sheltering in place in Provincetown, “I sit in a room and write, and that’s what I love to do.” She has been recording her WOMR radio show, Arts Week, broadcast on Thursdays at 12:30 p.m., from home, alternating weekly with Candace Hammond.
De Beauvoir’s literary influences include Mary Stewart, a British novelist who wrote romantic thrillers, and, more recently, mystery writer Phil Rickman. Fascinated as she is by “liminal spaces,” where strange things happen, de Beauvoir says that her novels always have a strong sense of place, whether they’re set in Provincetown, Montreal, or France. She’s especially interested in locales where secrets and history permeate the landscape.
Though she describes her audience as “cozy mystery readers” who have never been to Provincetown — stereotypically, Midwestern housewives who belong to knitting clubs — she is hoping that The Matinée Murders will also be enjoyed by Provincetown natives who will get an added kick from recognizing familiar names and places.
The book can be appreciated on its own, but de Beauvoir gets particular satisfaction in having her characters evolve over the course of a series. “The people are far more interesting to me than the plot,” she says.
De Beauvoir started the Sydney Riley series when, distressed by the current political reality, she wanted to expose her mainstream readership to people they might consider “other,” that is, gay or trans. “If you see these characters, and hear their voices, you might be a little less inclined to think of them as just ‘those people,’ ” she says. “That’s how you change minds, and that’s how you change hearts.
“Provincetown is a great tourist destination,” she adds, “but it is also a place where people who aren’t accepted elsewhere can be accepted. And wouldn’t it be nice if I could spread a little of that, through my books, out into the universe.”
Murder Will Out
The event: Reading and launch of The Matinée Murders, by Jeannette de Beauvoir
The time: Friday, May 29, at 5 p.m.
The place: East End Books Ptown’s Facebook page
The cost: Free