Bella a novel by Marilyn Z. Tomlins – excerpt

In crime on February 12, 2014 at 9:50 am

I set the tea things out in the drawing room, on a coffee table which stands between the room’s two bay windows. It is cool in the room. In the days when we received guests in winter the fireplace was always lit, Fred having loaded it each morning with logs, but with me alone here in the winter, its role has become merely decorative, its red bricks cold to the touch.

I sit down on an armchair facing the coffee table.

Colin walks in. He has changed into jeans and a black polo-necked sweater. His hair is wet: he would have had a quick shower. He is holding the cellophane-wrapped basket with both hands.

“Bella, I could not resist buying you a small gift. I hope you will like it.”

Hesitatingly, he holds the basket out towards me.

I get up and take the basket from him, the paper crinkling under our hands.

“How wonderful. Thank you, Colin. How kind of you.”

My mother drilled it into Marius and me never to say ‘you should not have’ when given a gift.

“Shall I help you with the wrapping?” asks Colin.

“Please do. Yes. Thank you.”

I put the basket down on another coffee table: the basket will hold fruit or chocolates or perhaps a bottle of champagne.

“Let me,” says Colin.

Our hands touch. Quickly, each draws back.

The pretty red bow is a ready-tied one, an elastic band holding it in place.

“Like a bow tie,” he says. “Not that I wear them. My brother does.”

I take the bow from him and so too the ribbon. All along the ribbon is the name Fauchon.

“I know a little girl who would want these for dressing up her dolls,” I say.

I lied: I want to keep the bow and the ribbon as a remembrance of this man. These will go into the box where I keep other such knick-knacks in remembrance of things past: sugar lump wrappers from when Jean-Louis and I had coffee after dinner in restaurants; pine cones and conkers from when Jean-Louis and I took autumnal walks in the Tuileries Gardens. A booklet of matches from the hotel where he and I had stayed in Rochers-de-Naye.

Colin’s gift is a selection of exotic fruit: a still-life of yellow, green, orange and red fruits I have never seen before.

“May I?” Colin asks.

He takes the smallest item from the basket, a tiny, crispy, bell-shaped fruit, and carefully, as if it is fragile, places it onto the palm of my right hand.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Come,” he says, “it can be sticky, so I will open it for you.”

He loosens the outer part of the fruit, a husk as thin and crispy as paper, and he holds up a perfectly round yellow berry.

“Come,” he says again.

Holding the fruit by the tiny stem underneath it, he brings his hand up to my mouth. Keeping my eyes down and on his hand, like a baby who has seen its mother’s nipple, I open my mouth.

His fingers brush against my lips.

“Oops, sorry.”

He lets go of the berry and it drops onto my tongue.

With my tongue, I roll the berry around in my mouth and, next, I bite into it. I chew slowly, my eyes on Colin’s: they are anxious, waiting for my response. The taste on my tongue is not one of sweetness but acidity. Refreshing mellow acidity.

Somewhere in the night, an owl hoots.

He flicks his head towards the bay window behind us.

“A storm is on its way.”

We are only a few centimetres apart: I am still holding the hand with which he had fed me the berry. Quickly, I let go of the hand.

“Delicious,” I say of the berry.

I give a step away from him.

“It is a gooseberry.”

“So, that’s a gooseberry! My mother used to tell my brother and I about the gooseberry tree which stood in the garden of their home when they were children. She used to tell us what a little hardy tree it was. They never watered it or trimmed it and each summer it produced the sweetest berries. My father said in Germany it was called a Stachelbeere. The thorn berry. There were a few people in his life who were thorn berries.”

“Stachelbeere? Stachelbeere? Good name.”

“I too have … had them in my life,” I say.

“I too have had them.”

“But no longer?”

He shakes his head.

“They are still there but I’ve come to ignore their existence.”

“Lucky man. I cannot ignore my thorn berries.”

“Bella, I hope my presence here … here at Le Presbytère is not a thorn berry. Will not be a thorn berry.”

His eyes are bearing a strange look. I cannot interpret it. Or can I and I do not want to acknowledge its message?

“Let’s have our tea, Colin,” I say.

“Sure,” he says. “Let’s.”


Bella…A French Life by Marilyn Z. Tomlins

In crime on February 12, 2014 at 9:49 am

The holidaymakers have returned home. And yesterday the wind rose. The holidaymakers going home and the wind rising mean it is the end of summer.

I do not know what I will do to pass the time this winter.

God, I hate winter.

The family to the right set off first. She’s a teacher; he is a doctor. I did not tell them that I too am a physician. At least, I used to be. I would have had to tell them something about myself. Of course, this I would not have wanted to do. They would have asked, “Gave it up?” Whatever I would have replied, would have led to another question. Even to several questions. That dreadful thing that had happened to the Brissard twin would have come back to me. Not that it has ever left me. No, it is with me like an ugly mole on one’s back; you can cover it with a frilly blouse, but sure to God, one knows it is still there.

Du Pont is the family’s surname.

“Easy to remember,” he said.

I am bound to see them again next summer because they have bought the house next door.

“Paid two hundred thousand francs for it,” she boasted.

My parents had bought this house of mine for fifteen thousand francs. The old man from whom they bought it wanted to go into an old-age home. That was in 1947. It is 1986 now.

I was four. Marius, my brother, still had to be born.

Oh dear! I have now revealed my age, and I planned not to mention anyone’s age.

My name is Bella Wolff.


So starts Marilyn’s new book, a novel this time after her true-crime ‘Die in Paris’ about French WW2 serial killer, Dr Marcel Petiot.


What is in a name?

My name is Bella Wolff, the narrator of this novel tells us.

The surname Wolff was not an easy one to bear because Bella was born of a French mother and a German father. So, what is wrong with that you may ask? Plenty. That is, if you were born during the World War Two German occupation of France, because it means that your mother had taken a German lover. A lover from among Hitler’s soldiers: a Wehrmacht soldier.

Children born in such love affairs, like Bella, grew up pariahs in France. At school they, like their fathers, were called ‘dirty Boche’ – Bosch, the derogatory name the French had given Germans already back in World War One.

Bella, blonde and blue-eyed like her father and pretty like her mother, tolerated the insults, and having left her village of Sainte-Marie-sur-Brecque above Saint Michael’s Mount in Normandy, became a doctor, a highly-considered paediatrician in Paris, but there disaster struck. A newborn, one of twins, in her care, died, and the distraught parents charged her with negligence. This tragedy – yes, one can call it a tragedy – sent Bella back to her village where she began to help her widowed mother run the family’s guest house, Le Presbytère.

There, running the guest house on her own after her mother’s death, she not only yet again had to face the shame of being the child of a Wehrmacht soldier and a horizontal collaborator as the French called their female compatriots who had slept with German soldiers, but she also tried to recover from the end of her love affair with a dashing French lawyer, Jean-Louis, a married man alas with two small daughters.

Then, one day, Colin, an English writer comes to stay at the guest house in order to finish a biography he is writing, and … yes … he finds Bella irresistible and she him.

More I will not be reveal to you, but ‘Bella … A French Life’ is a novel of love and loss. Of sex too, because the French will always be French, won’t they?

There is also much eating in the novel, because yes, the French love food just as much as they love making love, so Marilyn’s publisher having asked her to write up the recipes of the dishes she mentions in the novel, ‘Bella … A French Life – The Cookbook’ has been published too.

Both books can be ordered from Amazon in both e-book and paperback editions.

Set in Normandy, France this is a love story, which was born in the tragedy of war. When Bella’s parents fell in love, it was against all the rules, however, rules, as they say, are there to be broken, and in the face of adversity, their love endured.



True Crime in Soho

In crime on September 6, 2013 at 6:54 pm

I’ve just been notified of a great event coming up soon in Soho.  It’s called: True Crime: Society’s Mirror? (with Duncan Campbell, Diana Souhami, Sean O’Connor and Gavin Knight) and has some great guests, including: Gavin Knight who wrote a piece for LaeLand in January of 2012: Gavin Knight – Hood Rat. Also on the panel are: Duncan CampbellDiana Souhami, and Sean O’Connor.

The event is on Sunday, 29th September 2013 at 1:00 P.M. at the main theatre.  The ticket is only £9.00.  Don’t miss it.