Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Overlook Press, THE PARIS CORRESPONDENT by Alan S. Cowell: Not a Mystery, But ...

Somehow the review copy that Overlook Press sent of THE PARIS CORRESPONDENT by Alan S. Cowell sank into the wrong stack of books a few months ago. I even almost recall how it happened -- the book arrived with something by "modern master of noir" Dave Zeltserman that I'd been waiting for months to get my hands on, and I didn't know anything about Cowell or his books.

But thanks to a spate of holiday "move those piles" activity, "my" Dave rediscovered the Cowell book (released in October), and I settled down to read it, assuming it was a work of espionage fiction -- for two reasons: (1) the dark cover with its suspicious night scene, and (2) an echo effect in my brain from that well-liked Alan Furst book from 2006, The Foreign Correspondent  -- also set in Paris, by the way.

Well, THE PARIS CORRESPONDENT is not an espionage novel. I could perhaps make an argument for saying it's a murder mystery of sorts -- there are deaths and suspicious gaps in life stories and illegal escapades among journalists, ranging from simple adultery to fraudulent news to malice and mischief. But when I reached the halfway point in the book, I sighed, realizing it wasn't going to turn out to be what I'd expected.

And then I skipped the things I ought to have been doing, and read until 2 a.m. in order to enjoy all the rest of it.

Editor Ed Clancy has spent nearly a lifetime handling the news copy sent in by Pulitzer prize-winning war reporter Joe Shelby. But having an aging, even dying, Shelby arrive in the Paris office of the Star during Ed's efforts to get his newsroom up to speed as an Internet news source -- all stories immediate, bylines fugitive, editing under pressure -- is sure to embroil Clancy in exactly the kind of trouble he doesn't want to endure personally. His wife Marie-Claire is bound to suspect him of getting into trouble with Joe, too, considering all the tall tales Ed has already told his beloved about the hard-loving, unmanageable journalist. Complicating things further, Shelby's lifelong romantic interest, photojournalist Faria Duclos, is also in Paris, dying; and Shelby's rival for Faria's heart (and other body parts) is due to arrive also at the Star office, determined to cut its staff.

It's a classic setup for crime, murder, even arson. Not to mention drugs, fast cars, big money. Am I sure this isn't a mystery? Yep, I'm sure. It's more of a modern-day quest, a search for the fitting endgame to lives spent making the most of global adventuring and the power of the press.

And I'll stop there and just add: If you like Paris, love Paris, like journalism, feel compelled to buy newspapers and/or listen to public radio ... this is a good read for you. Really.

But it's not a mystery. It figures. About the only thing I'm sure of for the Overlook Press "list" is that every one of their books will be quirky, unusual, and hard to categorize. Oh yes, and worth opening.

PS -- Cowell is a journalist. His work has been nominated for a Pulitzer. This is his first novel. Why did he wait so long??

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