Reviewed by Janine Cobain
Paris 1899. The city is a glittering hub of fin-desiecle activity. Theatres and galleries are vibrant with artistic energy. The new metro is under construction, and so is the site for the centennial Universal Exhibition. But there is also violent political upheaval. The Dreyfus Affair has released a riotous surge of anti-semitism. Asylums and jails are overcrowded. Death and madness hover like a cloud over the city. Bostanian lawyer James Norton has been sent by his mother to bring back his Invalid sister Ellie and his younger brother Raf, a Journalist. But the violent deaths of the actress Olympe Fabre and then of her sister Judith in the asylum of Salpetriere, draw the siblings into a dark web of violence. Olympe is pregnant. Is her death a crime passionnel or part of a conspiracy of serial killings of Jewish women, disturbingly linked to medical research at Salpetriere? A gripping psychological period thriller.
Had you asked me a few weeks ago if I had been to Paris, I would have answered truthfully with no, however after reading this glorious novel I feel I could answer, just as honestly with ‘Yes, I was there just before 1900’. Such is the richness of the text within these pages that you are immersed in the city, you follow the Norton Brothers’ through the sometimes seedy streets, meeting the colourful characters who are their family, friends and foe.
The story takes you on a twisted path, weaving suspicion around each of the players in this suspense filled read – it thwarted my plans for an early night three days in a row! This book is a generous number of pages, but never felt long – each sentence was informative, every word needed to paint the scene and bring the story to life.
I have in the past struggled to read historical fiction, and I have tried but this was in a class of its own. We here so much promotion around ‘five star reads’ – undoubtedly some of which are deserved – that we almost become desensitised but with Paris Requiem a 5 star award would be a disservice. This is so much more – the writing is rich, eloquent and descriptive – I feel I know the lead characters, that I have lived in that time and place with them. Although this was set over 100 years ago it never felt dated or ‘stuffy’ – the language was modern but believable and the conclusion was exquisitely drawn.
Arcadia books have, once again, published a novel that leaves you feeling enriched for reading it. Bravo!
I'd like to thank Karen at Arcadia Books for sending Janine a copy of this book to review.