Sunday, November 3, 2013

J'ai Deux Amours, Neither of Which Are These Books

I really need to stop reading every book that crosses my path and has the word "Paris" in the title, you guys.

In the past two weeks I've read two books that both take place in pre-War Paris (well, kinda). And they both kind of sucked, although for different reasons.

bones of paris cover

The first was The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King. It follows the walking and talking of Harris Stuyvesant, an itinerant PI who's trying to find a missing girl in what the author continually reminds us is 1929 Paris. As in, "But hey, it's 1929 Paris!" The "twist" is that Harris slept with Pip before she disappeared. Quelle horreur, y'all. As he follows Pip's trail, he discovers artists are assholes, and one of them might have killed Pip.

Now, I didn't pick up this book JUST because it had the word Paris in the title; I was also intrigued because I like King's Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes novels (or I did, until I DNF'd two in a row because they were boring me). Based on those books I expected better research and writing from King than I got in this novel. It was almost as if she got all her research from watching Midnight in Paris and Discovery Channel documentaries: everything from the historical characters to the bone-filled catacombs has been treaded and retreaded a thousand times. Even the scenes with Sylvia Beach (whom Harris naturally knows, because I'm sure she loved hanging out with aging private investigators) are so obviously based on those two photographs of her that are in every documentary about Paris in the 1920s. And naturally Picasso, Salvador DalĂ­, F. Scott Fitgerald, and Cole Porter all have to be mentioned. Come on, I can get this stuff from any book. I had to roll my eyes when it turned out Harris knew Ernest Hemingway, and Kiki de Montparnasse (but never even heard of the guy Kiki lived with for nearly a decade, Man Ray? Makes no sense).

The lack of original and unexpected story lines wouldn't have bothered me too much if King actually brought the city and society of Paris to life, but she didn't. There was a whole lot of tell and not show going on—some passages read distinctly guidebook-y—and while King might have been going for a crime noir type novel, the tone of the writing was too light to pull it off. I was also a little bothered by the way some of the surrealists, like Man Ray and Lee Miller, were portrayed. But to be fair, that's probably because of my background in art history.

In the end The Bones of Paris just wasn't interesting enough to hold my attention. I only read it for a few days, but it felt like WEEKS because nothing happened and I didn't give a damn if Harris found Pip or not. Or if he threw himself into the Seine, for that matter. The Bones of Paris was a DNF, and I think it will also be the last book I read by King.

midnight train to paris cover

The second novel, Midnight Train to Paris, was originally released as a Kindle serial and is about a journalist whose twin sister is kidnapped from a train along with two other women. Just so happens, 75 years earlier three other women were taken from the same train, at the same place and time. Coincidence?! Soon Jillian is traveling to Switzerland with her ex-luvarh (who used to be in the CIA but is now a private super-investigator) to find her sister and solve both kidnappings, in both time periods!

There is sooo much going on in this book: corrupt US senators, child abuse, murrrrder, betrayal, scandal (sounds like an ABC lineup), art, time travel, train mysteries, castles hidden in the mountains, insanity... LORDY LORDY. I have to admit that I enjoyed it a lot more than The Bones of Paris because there was stuff going on (what a concept), even though the writing was much worse. For example, the author took care to describe, in detail, the driving routes her characters took to get from one place to another, yet didn't bother to research average weather patterns in the Alps or what people wear when it's cold outside. Hint: it's generally more than a pencil skirt, heels, and a light jacket.

Nevertheless, I was having fun reading it. But about halfway through Midnight Train to Paris, I started to lose interest because there was a complete lack of plausibility. Not just the inconsistencies in clothing, but in the characters' behavior and the numerous incredible coincidences. I didn't care if Jillian and her cookie cutter hero got together, if her sister would survive, or even if Jill would. When the hero and heroine traveled back in time and the heroine started getting messages across space-time from her sister, it got to be too much. I skimmed to the end, so trust me when I say it only gets more ridiculous as the book goes on. Also, there are only about three pages that actually take place in Paris. You can definitely feel free to skip this pulpy mess of a novel.

Have you read any good books set in Paris lately?

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