Sunday, March 2, 2014

Book Review: THE BONES OF PARIS by Laurie R. King


THE BONES OF PARIS by Laurie R. King received a 'starred' review from Booklist and was named one of the Year's Best Books by the Sacramento Bee and not only that, it has already earned a listing on my Favorite Books of the Year 2014 post - just sayin'.

So let's get to it:

It's the 1920's - the Jazz Age - but Paris is not the city of romantic gaiety we've come to know (in person or otherwise) and love. This is not the lively, fruity, happy-go-lucky Paris of Woody Allen's MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Not at all. This is a grim and rainy Paris, full of lingering shadows, dark alleyways and even darker imaginings. Author Laurie King would have us know that life among the intelligentsia and the avant garde isn't all absinthe and sex (though a great deal of it is, actually) - being an artistic genius is damned hard work - bad behavior is only to be expected. 

Down these mean streets of Paris walks a man who is not himself mean (sorry, dear Mr. Chandler). His name is Harris Stuyvesant. He is a hard-drinking, ramshackle, former FBI man currently earning his meager keep as a private detective. A man haunted by tragic past events, Stuyvesant still dreams of a lost love while trying to slake his desolation with booze and sordid one night stands.

Hired to find a troubled American girl from Boston who has disappeared without a trace (isn't that always the way?), Stuyvesant's investigation soon draws him into a dark and depressing world full of subterranean creatures with delusions of grandeur, artist poseurs, bent geniuses with twisted motivations who crave ever darker and more loathsome amusements in the name of 'art'. Evil is ripe here.

Mix in the 'depravity as art' horrors of the Theater du Grand Guignol in Montmartre, owned and operated by a ghoulishly sinister individual, scion of an old and wealthy French family with influence in high places and it becomes obvious to Stuyvesant that a man who struts about in a cape and monocle bears looking into. The lavish descriptions of this odd fellow's hearth and home, not to mention, the theater at the heart of this mystery, add to the 'Danse Macabre' quotient and are worth the price of admission as far as I'm concerned.

No question about it, this unsettling book features several characters one would hate to meet up with in any dark alley. For instance: the grotesque little man who fashions tableaux from human bones and other unhealthy minutiae. Apparently, except for the hero and his few friends, everyone else is consumed by the idea that artists must act-out in order to be artists. Mixed in with King's fictional creations are an easily recognized frenetic assortment of 1920's American ex-pats, among them Sylvia Beach (owner and proprietor of famed bookstore Shakespeare & Co.), Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Josephine Baker, Cole Porter, etc.

In fact, the surrealist photographer Man Ray, an unpleasant fellow full of grandiose pomposity and nasty ideas, is a murder suspect once it's discovered by Stuyvesant, that a serial killer may be at play. It's always fun (in this case, eerie fun) to run into people you've heard about and maybe read about, people who were living it up in Paris during the 20's - people you might even have envied or wanted to meet once upon a time. Though after reading THE BONES OF PARIS, envy might be tempered with extreme caution.

Stuyvesant, in the great tradition of slouchy but dogged private eyes with their own agendas, earns our respect as he continues to look for the missing girl even as he begins to suspect she is dead and gone. He has been more-or-less warned off the case by the French police in the person of the likable Doucette who will become an ally and who turns out (improbably) to be engaged to the woman of Stuyvesant's unsettled dreams. Author Laurie King has various story-lines working, all intertwined and inventive in mostly believable ways, all inevitably leading to a very troubling denouement.

To that end we have Bennett Grey showing up in Paris before too long (though the book begins with him). Grey is the damaged brother of Stuyvesant's one true love, Sarah, a woman who was grievously wounded in the previous Stuyvesant and Grey book, TOUCHSTONE. (Back story is brought in by King in a very intelligent and non-fatiguing manner.) Grey was injured in the war (WWI) and was left with the strange ability to detect lies - not to put too fine a point on it, he's a sort of human lie detector whose abilities are coveted by the government. He is covertly (and not so) watched wherever he goes, hence he has become a recluse (who could blame him?). Living in Cornwall at the very edge of the sea, Grey only occasionally ventures forth since even ordinary lies can cause him acute physical and emotional distress.

Man Ray's continued posturings and suspicious behavior (alongside his beautiful and perhaps not too fastidious mistress, Lee Miller) add their own sinister obfuscation to a story which only grows darker and more macabre as Stuyvesant finally comes to the conclusion that the truth is actually much blacker than what even he could have imagined.

Don't miss this creepy-crawly excursion into the dark underbelly of Paris in the 20's written so lavishly and so - dare I say it? - enthusiastically, by an author whose Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell series is always at the top of any book list I care to make.

P.S. It is not necessary to have read TOUCHSTONE, to enjoy this second in the Suyvesant and Grey series. Laurie R. King is very good at what she does.


30 comments:

  1. Great review, Yvette. I have Touchstone, so I will read that first.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Tracy. :) I think this second one is the better book. But that's just my little own opinion.

      Delete
  2. Yvette,

    Nice review. I think I will check out Touchstone first. By the way, I like her other series better, the one with Kate Martinelli of the LAPD. It's probably got more to do with my prejudice against any tampering with Holmes and Watson than King in particular.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh I can't agree, Fred. I've never been able to get into the Kate Martinelli books, no matter how hard I try. It's Holmes and Russell for me. :)

      Delete
  3. Well, hmmm. Even though I loved King's Kate Martinelli books, and liked the two Mary Russells that I read, I didn't cotton to Touchstone. In fact, sped through it and didn't finish it. So I'm not sure I'd like this one.

    But, I'd like to see how you like Imogen Robertson's book set in 1920s Park, The Paris Winter. That one I would like to read and will do so, whenever I can slosh through these book piles around here. (sigh)

    No matter how many snowed-in days there are, I can never catch up.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I felt the same way as you did, Kathy. About TOUCHSTONE. Didn't cotton to it much. That's why this second book so surprised me. Give it a chance. As for Imogen Robertson's book, my library doesn't have it so I may have to purchase it at some point. But first I'm buying another book for my granddaughter and maybe the DVD of MINISTRY OF FEAR. Maybe. I'll have to check the exchequer. Ha!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hello Yvette:

    What we so much enjoy about your posts is the way in which you introduce us to new writers [and films we have not seen] all of the time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Jane and Lance. I do my best.:)

      Delete
  6. Abe Books has a new copy of The Paris Winter for $10.40, including shipping, from paperbackshop in Secaucus, N.J.

    That's too bad about your library.

    Definitely the granddaughter comes first. I even buy my neighbors' children books, and it's a joy to see the almost four-year-old sit down and look intently at a book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I agree, Kathy. I love to read to my granddaughter when I get a chance, but I also love seeing her with a book in hand. I think I'll check on that Abe book info. That price isn't bad at all. Thanks, Kathy.

      Delete
  7. Yvette,

    Then we must agree to disagree. (G)

    I see that you're reading Tuchman's A Distant Mirror. A great book, it's been on my must reread list for some time now. I first read it when I was taking a Chaucer course. One of these days. . .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fred have you read THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE all the way through? I think it's brilliant. Laurie King's interpretation of Holmes fleshes him out, makes him for of a living man. Though of course, I love the Conan Doyle stories as well. But as you say, we must agree to disagree.

      I'm actually listening to A DISTANT MIRROR - I have it on audio. I'm attempting, as usual, to read and/or listen to as many books at one time as my brain will hold.

      As Nero Wolfe says: The more you put in your brain the more it will hold.

      Delete
  8. Good review, Yvette. I haven't read this one, but my wife has, and she's every bit as enthusiastic about it as you are. Not sure when I'll get to it - I'm not huge on noir - but Laurie King's Holmes/Russell stories are excellent and I have enjoyed the ones I've read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Les. Your wife has great taste in books. :)

      Delete
  9. Yvette, adore murder mysteries, this sounds great. On your comment on Jack the ripper, yes i read about the painter they suspected. Still think it was someone with the skill of a surgeon,
    that was a Creepy cabbie, Huh? .
    yvonne

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Creepy is as creepy does, Yvonne. :) I've always been fascinated by all the theories. I suspect you're probably right - had to b e someone with surgical skills (though NOT, necessarily, a doctor). Cornwell made a pretty good case.

      Delete
  10. Yvette,

    Is _The Beekeepers Apprentice_ the first one in the series? If so, then I finished it. It was OK, but I really didn't see what the fuss was all about, and I didn't feel the need to rush out and get the next one when it appeared.

    However, I felt she was good enough of a writer to try the Kate Martinelli series when it appeared, I thought those were much better, and I've read all of them to date. This is why I'm willing to check out this new series (new to me anyway as I had never heard of it until your review).

    There's no accounting for tastes. As my sainted grandmother (probably giving the angels hell right now) always used to say, "'Everybody to his own taste,' said the old lady as she kissed the cow."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your grandmother was a wise woman, Fred. :) As you know, no two people read the same book. Though I would still, urge you to try one more in the Holmes/Russell series and if you still don't like it then I give up. Please give a looksee to O JERUSALEM in which Holmes and Russell travel to Palestine which resonates very deeply with Russell since she is, of course, Jewish. The duo also meet up with two VERY intriguing spies. I must say that I ADORE this book and have read it at least three times already. To me it is one of the ultimate adventure books.

      Delete
  11. Still not read anythign by King but this sounds like a great place tp start - really enjoyed your enthusiastic review Yvette - thanks chum.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Sergio. This book is unlike any of those by King that I've read before since it is very noir and in places really creepy. But as you say, not a bad place to start to get a flavor of King's writing. Despite Fred's lack of enthusiasm, I still highly recommend King's Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell books beginning with THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE.

      Delete
  12. I just borrowed this from my library electronically! This is the first time I've ever done this. Very cool! I just have to remember that it's on my Kindle and I have to read it and then return it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I'd forget for sure, Joan. I still have to be reminded by my library when books are due. I'm hopeless. :) Let me know what you think of this one. It's really different from King's other books.

      Delete
    2. 'Planet Joan' I love the name of your new venture, Joan. Now you have to write something. :)

      Delete
    3. Oh, goodness! I was hoping no one would notice it! I sort of stole that name from an acquaintance who uses Planet (then her name) as her e-mail address and a friend who calls her mental safe place her own planet. I am so lazy and I have to figure out how to make the site more attractive. I might need to ask some of my blogging friends for advice (yes, I'm talking to you, Yvette!).

      Delete
    4. I'm ready to help in any way I can, Joan. As long as you remember that a lot of what I do is hit or miss. Ha. I am still not technologically expert at anything. But it's lots of fun.

      Delete
    5. Thanks, Yvette. I'll stumble my way around for a little while to see how much I can figure out without bothering my blogging friends. I think it will be fun once I figure out the basics.

      Delete
  13. She is the guest on WELL READ this week (PBS) Look forward to hearing her.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Patti, Is that on television? Or radio? Maybe I can find it online.

      Delete

Your comment will appear after I take a look.