I’m not shy in sharing my antipathy towards historical fiction. If I read a synopsis and the book is set before 1960(ish) I put it aside.* Worse still novels about events from centuries ago. Perhaps that’ll change at some point. I know my taste has changed over the past couple of decades so maybe I’ll become a reader of historical non-fiction or fantasy novels at some point. Or maybe not.
Although I love Agatha Christie I’ve avoided popular series by Kerry Greenwood and Sulari Gentill (and others) because I’ve assumed I’d feel the same about historical crime fiction. However, after seeing some glowing reviews of Kirsty Manning’s latest release The Paris Mystery, I thought I should dive on in… particularly because it’s the first in a series – testing the waters or something.
The Paris Mystery (The Charlotte 'Charlie' James series #1)
by Kirsty Manning
Series: The Charlotte 'Charlie' James series #1
Published by Allen & Unwin
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Crime Fiction, Historical Fiction
1938 Paris. The last sigh of summer before the war.
As Australian journalist Charlotte (Charlie) James alights at the Gare du Nord, ready to start her role as correspondent for The Times, Paris is in turmoil as talk of war becomes increasingly strident.
Charlie is chasing her first big scoop, needing to prove to her boss that she can do this job as well, if not better than, her male counterparts. And the best way to forge the necessary contacts quickly is to make the well-connected British expats Lord and Lady Ashworth her business. Lady Eleanor knows everyone who counts and at her annual sumptuously extravagant party, a circus ball, Charlie will meet them all.
On the summer solstice eve, the circus ball is in full swing with the cream of Parisian society entranced by burlesque dancers, tightrope walkers, a jazz band and fireworks lighting the night skies. But as Charlie is drawn into the magical world of parties, couture houses and bohemian wine bars, secrets start to unravel, including her own.
Manning opens this book with a prologue that introduces us to the crime at the heart of it before going back only a few days to meet Charlie on her arrival in Paris. She’s travelled from Australia and we learn she’s newly divorced and wanting to start afresh. Thanks to her French mother she speaks the language so scores a job on the news desk though ‘forgot’ to tell her new boss and colleagues that Charlie was short for Charlotte. As opposed to Charles. Though she’s overcome sexist assumptions in Australia she realises she’ll have to work to prove herself to her new employers, so is eager to please with her first piece on the eccentric Lady Ashworth.
Fortunately Charlie is quite a delight so she wins Lady Ashworth over easily and is welcomed (quickly) into Parisian high society. She’s helped quite significantly by the extremely overqualified ‘assistant’ at the newspaper, the glamorous Violet – biding her time in France before being married off by her wealthy parents in England – who knows ALL of the right people.
There probably wasn’t as much foreshadowing / set-up in terms of the whodunnit, making it a bit hard for readers to guess the who and why, but in some ways that element plays a backseat to the luxuriously decadent setting. Manning effortlessly details everything from designer couture to food to architecture and landmarks. The book doesn’t feel laden by the description and detail however, rather it adds a generous texture and grounds readers in the time and place.
I read this the week after Queen Elizabeth II died and Charles assumed the throne which was quite timely as this book is set just after Queen’s uncle (King Edward) abdicated. The blurb talks about the brink of war, but I didn’t quite get that sense of urgency or fear. (On that note, I hope the series continues to focus on civilian-type crimes rather than delving into spies and the underground resistance as I feel like there are enough of those books around already!)
Manning introduces some great characters and I assume we’ll see several in future outings – including a potential love interest (or two) for Charlie. Charlie herself is a great lead – genuine and witty – and I adored the indomitable Violet.
Though I’ve not read Kerry Greenwood’s Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries I love the TV show and this cosy crime is reminiscent of that: slightly over-the-top, filled with extravagance and tremendously good fun.
The Paris Mystery by Kirsty Manning was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
* Weirdly I do make allowances for dual timeline books.