(At the end of this post there’s an opportunity to win your own copy of The Bones of Paris!)
“Yes, Parisians had the right idea when it came to summer: get out. Paris obscured by snow or softened by fog, Paris adrift on fallen blossoms or carpeted in autumn leaves, Paris in the rain, at night, the lights streaking on the pavement – yes. But not Paris with a blast furnace overhead, when five minutes after finishing a beer, a man felt thirsty. Days like this, you kept a close eye on stray dogs, expecting one to come at you with foam-slathered jaws. Days like this, you wondered if winter would ever come again. If a snowdrop would ever bloom in the badlands.”
Harris Stuyvesant, former FBI man, now private investigator, is in Paris. It is September 1929 and he has been hired to look for Philippa Crosby otherwise known as Pip or Phil, a 22-year-old American and Paris resident who has been missing since March. He has a personal interest in this case as he had a brief affair with her (“one in a string of mostly blonde, mostly young women who made a man glad to be living in 1920s France”), which complicates things a little. He begins his investigation with her flatmate Nancy Berger, from whom he learns that Pip was working as a model for artists and photographers in Paris.
He starts by checking out the vibrant expat community in Paris – apparently Harris is an acquaintance of some well-known Americans in Paris like Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company (according to Beach, “the only American in Paris who neither writes not paints”) and Ernest Hemingway. But things take a turn for the darker and the more macabre when his search takes him into the company of Surrealists like Man Ray and their “infatuation with intellectual violence”, the naturalistic horror shows of the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, and the morbid art displays of Didi Moreau.
The suspense deepens when we learn that Harris’ ex-girlfriend Sarah Gray is working in Paris, for Dominic Charmentier, a patron of art, a collector of various things, an “amateur de la morte” (an admirer of death) with an interest in the Grand-Guignol.
Interspersed with Harris’ adventures in Paris are short, deliberately vague chapters. One hints of a “bone artist” working with beetles that clean flesh off bones, “a life’s story, carved in mute calcium”. Another tells of the history behind the dead of Paris, bodies buried on the Rive Droit since Roman times in the Cemetery of the Holy Innocents, a “field of bones and bodies surrounded by the living”. And yet another is a conversation about a danse macabre (dance of death).
The ambiance is wonderful. King brings the 1920s Paris scene to life with its weird and wonderful side characters. Which happens to be rather popular right now isn’t it? Her 1920s Parisian scene is ripe with
wildlife nightlife, its literary greats, its delightful Midnight in Paris-isms. King made Paris in the summer just burst with colour and flavour, from the very moment we step foot in it: “The morning exploded.”
She also sent me off to the Internet many times, checking out the various real-life characters she brings in, like Man Ray and Lee Miller, places like the Île de la Cité, and making me want to read Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest which although Harris doesn’t read (it is a gift from Sylvia Beach), sounds like a fun hardboiled read. Always a sign of a well-researched, engaging read.
King is a sublime writer with a wonderful ability to immerse the reader in her historical mysteries. She had already won me over with her Sherlock Holmes-ian Mary Russell series (of which I’ve read the first three books) and she does not disappoint in The Bones of Paris.
But it was a little hard for me to fall for the main characters, perhaps because this is the second book in the series. I felt like I was missing a connection, that which the characters of Harris Stuyvesant, Sarah and Bennett Gray have from the first book. Bones of Paris opens with Bennett Gray in Cornwall, receiving an important package from Harris Stuyvesant (and a tiny mention of Sarah), but we don’t hear from Bennett till quite a while later in the book, leaving me constantly wondering what their connection was and why Bennett was the one who opened the book. So part of me wished I had known of their background history before I began this book. Still it did work out in the end as things were explained more and it made me interested in finding out more about Bennett and Sarah and Harris – and I will likely be borrowing Touchstone from the library soon.
While I technically read The Bones of Paris in summer (August), it makes for a eerily apt read for RIP VIII, being a mystery/crime novel that borders on the macabre.
Would you like to win a copy of The Bones of Paris? See the end of this post!
Check out the rest of the tour stops:
Sunday, September 1st
Review + Giveaway at Words And Peace
Monday, September 2
Review + Giveaway at Musings From An Addicted Reader
Wednesday, September 4
Review + Giveaway at I Am, Indeed
Thursday, September 5
Review + Giveaway at Cabin Goddess
Friday, September 6
Review + Giveaway at Mommasez…
Saturday, September 7
Review + Giveaway at Words And Peace
Sunday, September 8
Review + Giveaway at Poofbooks
Monday, September 9
Review + Giveaway at Griperang’s Bookmarks
Tuesday, September 10
Review + Giveaway at vvb32 Reads
Paris, France: September 1929. For Harris Stuyvesant, the assignment is a private investigator’s dream—he’s getting paid to troll the cafés and bars of Montparnasse, looking for a pretty young woman. The American agent has a healthy appreciation for la vie de bohème, despite having worked for years at the U.S. Bureau of Investigation. The missing person in question is Philippa Crosby, a twenty-two year old from Boston who has been living in Paris, modeling and acting. Her family became alarmed when she stopped all communications, and Stuyvesant agreed to track her down. He wholly expects to find her in the arms of some up-and-coming artist, perhaps experimenting with the decadent lifestyle that is suddenly available on everyrue and boulevard.As Stuyvesant follows Philippa’s trail through the expatriate community of artists and writers, he finds that she is known to many of its famous—and infamous—inhabitants, from Shakespeare and Company’s Sylvia Beach to Ernest Hemingway to the Surrealist photographer Man Ray. But when the evidence leads Stuyvesant to the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Montmartre, his investigation takes a sharp, disturbing turn. At the Grand-Guignol, murder, insanity, and sexual perversion are all staged to shocking, brutal effect: depravity as art, savage human nature on stage.Soon it becomes clear that one missing girl is a drop in the bucket. Here, amid the glittering lights of the cabarets, hides a monster whose artistic coup de grâce is to be rendered in blood. And Stuyvesant will have to descend into the darkest depths of perversion to find a killer . . . sifting through The Bones of Paris.
Kate Martinelli mysteries
A Grave Talent (1993)
To Play the Fool (1995)
With Child (1996)
Night Work (2000)
The Art of Detection (2006)
Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes mysteries
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1994)
A Monstrous Regiment of Women (1995)
A Letter of Mary (1997)
The Moor (1998)
O Jerusalem (1999)
Justice Hall (2002)
The Game (2004)
Locked Rooms (2005)
The Language of Bees (2009)
The God of the Hive (2010)
Beekeeping for Beginners (an ebook novella) (2011)
Pirate King (2011)
Garment of Shadows (2012)
Stuyvesant and Grey series
(Historical novels of suspense, featuring FBI agent Harris Stuyvesant and injured British soldier Bennett Grey)
The Bones of Paris (2013)
A Darker Place [UK title: The Birth of a New Moon] (1999)
Keeping Watch (2003)
Califia’s Daughters (as Leigh Richards) (2004)
***Thanks to France Book Tours for sending me a copy of The Bones of Paris, and for providing another copy for giveaway via Random House. Please leave a comment below before September 15 2013 for an opportunity to win. US readers only please.***