Saturday, March 29, 2014

Well Worth Reading: THE BONES OF PARIS, Laurie R. King

Laurie R. King's latest book came out in 2013 (she has another coming out this May, though -- author website here); it's THE BONES OF PARIS and I didn't rush to read it, knowing that her many fans would carry the book along, and at her level of the mysteries field, there are only a few publications whose word really matters in terms of how readers rush to purchase copies.

But I enjoy both strands of King's work -- her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, and her California police procedurals. So I made sure that my winter reading did include this one ... and it  belongs to neither of those series, but instead is a sequel to Touchstone, which I fear I somehow missed reading (I'll catch up with it soon).

THE BONES OF PARIS fits into the era King's explored from so many directions in her Russell/Holmes books, thought, as it opens in the fall of 1929 with a missive that reaches Bennett Grey in England. Readers of the earlier book will know immediately why the letter and enclosed photos have been sent to Grey -- the rest of us will catch up slowly, as we begin to understand the strange catastrophes and losses that tie together the man in England and a missing-persons investigator, Harris Stuyvesant, whom we meet in the next chapter in the heat of Paris's end-of-summer season, struggling with consequences of his ratty lifestyle and emotional sloppiness, while also trying to earn a living among the "beautiful people" of the expatriate community in Europe. A lot of what's wrong for him, and what goes wrong as he investigates, can easily be blamed on his own choices.

Yet a lot of the twisted nature of the arts community he finds himself investigating is a consequence of two very large factors: the damage done in France by the Great War, and the rebellious efforts of artists at the time to shake up reality, confront death and disaster, refuse to settle for comfort or attachment. The Surrealists make up the characters as well as the setting for King's exploration and Stuyvesant's investigation. King's interweaving of art and despair, loyalty and fractured love, make this "crime novel" simultaneously a deep and layered novel of that extended hold-your-breath season between the two major European wars. And she is generous with hints of the oncoming hostilities, even as her characters insist on heavy drinking and partying in their slice of "peace."

If you've been reading Charles Todd, or Jacqueline Winspear, or Pat Barker's "Regeneration" trilogy, pick up THE BONES OF PARIS. It may also be a good fit for you if you're an Alan Furst fan. And if you stop now and then to think about madness and art, about how new ideas emerge from darkness, about how evil overtakes good and how death fascinates, and how poets become murderers ... Don't come for tea, please. But all of this is in King's crime novel, and it's a darned good read.

No comments: