If the first book in this series, “Touchstone”, represents Laurie R King's excursion into the thriller genre, then this follow up novel featuring the same central protagonist is King's experiment with noir. Set in Paris shortly before the stock market crash of 1929, former Bureau of Investigation agent Harris Stuyvesant, now an occasional private investigator, is employed to find a missing American woman. Stuyvesant's discovery that the woman had links with the art world in Paris brings him into contact with players in a sensationalist corner of the surrealist art scene.
What I liked best about this novel is King's evocation of Paris in the late 1920s. She weaves real-life identities into her plot, including Sylvia Beach, Cole Porter, Man Ray, Bricktop Smith and Natalie Barney. Ernest Hemingway is also mentioned on a number of occasions, although he only appears briefly in a non-speaking role. King does a great job recreating a time when the frenetic expatriate party which had been 1920s Paris was almost over: the stock market crash of 1929 made Paris a less affordable place for Americans to live and the shadow of impending war during the 1930s changed the scene forever. I love reading about Paris during this period and encountering some of the personalities I know from other books was fun. I also liked the noir elements of the plot, underscored by a reference to Dashiell Hammett, and the creepy, almost gothic touches.
Part of the fun of reading crime fiction is seeing if you can guess whodunnit. In this case there were four, or at a pinch five, possible culprits to choose from. Two of them I dismissed almost immediately from consideration and the fifth I didn't seriously consider at all. But King kept me guessing with the other two, so the lead up to the big reveal was suspensefu, even if the mechanics of why-dunnit and how-dunnit stretched credulity. Actually, that’s too kind. The why and how were really pretty silly.
As it happens, the over the top resolution didn’t spoil the novel for me, but at times its leisurely pace threatened to do so. I’m okay with wordy and I like plenty of descriptive language, but this is not the kind of novel that is improved by too much detail and too many repetitive scenes. Overall, I was glad that I listened to the audiobook because it allowed me to multi-task while the hero dithered. Jefferson Mays does a good job with the narration, as he did with “Touchstone”, and his pronunciation of French words and phrases, while not perfect, is not bad at all.
As far as ratings go, I liked this a bit more than I did “Touchstone” - almost certainly because of the Parisian setting - so it’s a solid 3.5 stars.