Paris, France: September 1929. For Harris Stuyvesant, the assignment is a private investigator’s dream—he’s getting paid to troll the cafés and bars of Montparnasse, looking for a pretty young woman. The missing person in question is Philippa Crosby, a twenty-two year old from Boston who has been living in Paris, modelling and acting. Her family became alarmed when she stopped all communications, and Stuyvesant agreed to track her down. As Stuyvesant follows Philippa’s trail through the expatriate community of artists and writers, he finds that she is known to many of its famous—and infamous—inhabitants, from Shakespeare and Company’s Sylvia Beach to Ernest Hemingway to the Surrealist photographer Man Ray. But when the evidence leads Stuyvesant to the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Montmartre, his investigation takes a sharp, disturbing turn. At the Grand-Guignol, murder, insanity, and sexual perversion are all staged to shocking, brutal effect: depravity as art, savage human nature on stage. Soon it becomes clear that one missing girl is a drop in the bucket. Here, amid the glittering lights of the cabarets, hides a monster whose artistic coup de grâce is to be rendered in blood. And Stuyvesant will have to descend into the darkest depths of perversion to find a killer … sifting through The Bones of Paris.
Laurie King allows Mary Russell a well-earned break from her travels, but still offers us a 1920s European setting with The Bones of Paris, a sequel (of sorts) to her bestselling 2008 novel, Touchstone. It is 1929 and Harris Stuyvesant, now an ex-FBI agent, has spent a nomadic three years criss-crossing Europe. A variety of scrapes and circumstances leave him freelancing as a private investigator, employed by the missing Philippa Crosby’s family to track her whereabouts after a long silence in her communications.
We enter a Paris of art and artists, their entourages and their hangers-on. King intertwines real life characters of the day with her own inventions, a clever technique which she uses to her advantage. Whilst many names may be familiar, I still found myself wondering if some others were real or created for the purposes of the story, so well were they weaved together.
As a thriller, The Bones of Paris simmers gently as opposed to burning furiously, but this befits the era, and is an understated technique that works well for King. Excellent at plotting and adept at creating an eclectic cast list, King also offers a deliciously cheeky peek at the seedier side of between-the-wars Paris. Throw in more than a handful of unexplained disappearances, the reappearance of Sarah Grey, her reclusive brother Bennett, so memorable from Touchstone, and King has another winner on her hands.
With thanks to the publisher, Allison and Busby, for supplying a review copy of this book.