While getting ready for my surgery, I started accumulating books over the past few months, some from used book stores and some from Borders. (Alas, I won't be doing the latter anymore.) Some were adult books, and some were children's books. I started on the adult stack first, and was I ever surprised: Apparently my week in Paris a couple of summers ago burned its imprint into my unconscious; five of the books take place either partially or entirely in Paris. They are too many to review, so consider this post a thumbnail sharing of each.
I'll start with my least favorite first, Gourmet Rhapsody, by Muriel Barbery. I'm sorry to put it that way, too, because my purchase was motivated by how charmed I had been by Barbery's first book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog. In Hedgehog, a young girl has given herself a date on which she'll commit suicide unless she can find enough reasons not to. I know that sounds like a morbid story, but the book captures small, luminous moments of beauty that make life truly worth living. So I was expecting to be deeply moved again in Gourmet. Nope: A food critic lies on his deathbed, hoping to capture a favorite flavor that he can't quite identify in memory. Acquaintances and family each have a turn at sharing what they recall about this thoroughly unlikeable man. That's it, folks. some exquisite writing, because this author cannot turn out a bad line, but for me, the plot was . . . missing in action (pun intended).
But, next I read Cara Black's Murder in the Bastille. Black is one of my favorite mystery writers. Her series stars Aimée Leduc, a private eye for white collar techie matters who keeps getting dragged into murder cases instead. To read any one in the series is to get a free trip to Paris. Black knows that city inside and out and places each new mystery in a different neighborhood. Because Aimée grew up in Paris, naturally she has little snippets of memory about buildings she passes or bridges or streets she traverses, and so in a completely non-intrusive way, the reader picks up scraps of French history and art history while Aimée chases or runs from the bad guys. Black's website is equally interesting: Press here and go take a peek.
Then I read The Girl at the Lion d'Or by Sebastian Faulks. This is a carefully sculpted story of a young girl cast adrift following World War I. It takes place in a small village outside of Paris where Anne has taken employment as a waitress in the Hotel Lion D'Or of the title. Her story unfolds by degrees: Her father was falsely accused of cowardice at Verdun and shot. Because of accusations, Anne and her mother were hounded out of their village and went to Paris. With no one to turn to after her mother dies, Anne hopes to find a new life at the Lion D'Or. She falls in love with a married man, a relationship that traces a doomed arc. Ultimately this is a sad, haunting story about what it means to be a survivor.
The last two books of this French Connection are choices strangely related, though I didn't notice it at the time, since I bought them on two different occasions.
I had never read The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas (one of oh, so many classics I've never read, although I had seen different movie versions of the story.) So, I picked it up one day, thinking it was about time, and put it in my TBR stack. Well, this story rocks, and so does the writing! There really is a reason why some books become so renowned. The very first chapter sets the stage for the book: Three important characters are introduced: the hotheaded D'Artignon, who wants to be a musketeer, the mysterious, mustached stranger, who steals his letter of introduction to Treville, and the lovely but dangerous Milady. From that point the story moves from adventure to adventure, building momentum and tension to the very last. I loved this book and will probably read it again.
Imagine my surprise when I started reading The Club Dumas, by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. I was drawn to this book for a number reasons: the author is Spanish, and I'm trying to find Spanish writers translated into English to get more of a feel of Spain. (This is in English, by the way. I'm a long way off from being able to read a book in Spanish.) Also, part of the story takes place in Paris (yes, Paris). It's about books and book collectors. And it's a mystery. (And I love mysteries.) So, I thought, "Hey, this looks interesting." Well, it is. And also very weird. I think at times it borders on magical realism, since there is one mysterious character I still couldn't figure out even at the end, when loose threads are tied up. But an intriguing part of the mystery is how the main characters start falling into the roles of various characters in The Three Musketeers. There's a parallel mystery involving a book by a heretic burned at the stake hundreds of years ago, but the Musketeers connection is what added spice to the mix for me. I also appreciated that, while dead bodies appeared periodically, the author didn't dwell on all the gory details of the corpses and concentrated instead on the story.
That's it for today. I'll be posting about other books from my stack later, but these five seemed to belong together in the same post. Meanwhile, since I've off my usual track of talking about Children's books and YA's, if any of you have good mysteries to recommend, please include them in your comments. Look forward to reading both comments and suggestions.