When a wealthy young man about town is found violently murdered in a carriage, the job of puzzling out the killer falls to Inspector Guillaume Devre. The grisly scene quickly turns complicated as Devre is led into the path of Paris’ most famous courtesan, La Balise. He’s convinced she must be involved in the murder, but proof is hard to come by. Devre turns to his colleague, the surly American coroner Thomas Jackson, in order to tease every last clue from the doomed corpse.
Another body shows up and Devre is left scrambling. If he can’t find the killer, he knows it won’t be long until Jackson has a third body on his dissection table. But while Paris is the City of Lights, she has a sinister darkness all her own. It will take all of Devre’s skill to find a murderer and prevent the death of a young doctor to whom he has become extremely fond.
It’s odd to have so enjoyed a book that I found on some levels to be maddeningly frustrating. Murder on the Champs-Elysees is the first in a new mystery series by Alex Mandon. It is safe to say this is truly a mystery first and foremost and, at least in this first book, Devre’s sexuality took a distant second place. Devre is no Holmes or Nero Wolfe. He is dogged and determined and all too human. Which is why I adore him. He’s tenacious and while he tends to jump to conclusions, he works the puzzle wherever it takes him. He just a good policeman and it’s easy to enjoy his work.
The author has done an amazing job of capturing the essence of Paris at the turn of the 20th century. There is something so very unique about Paris and much of that comes through the page. If you’re looking for a romance, don’t expect to find it here. Devre is very much a man in conflict with his sexuality and, while there is a potential love interest set up for future books, it never really amounts to much here.
So why was I gnashing my teeth at times while reading Murder on the Champs-Elysees? First, the mystery is a bit plodding. It’s well formed but at times the pacing lags and the investigation feels slightly pedantic as a result. There is a significant secondary cast, all of whom have parts to play, but there are moments where they detract from action on page or feel somewhat extraneous. This doesn’t happen often, but it’s enough to be a little wearisome. My biggest issue with the novel is one that is all my own, so I didn’t factor it into the review rating. But I hate it when authors combine languages in the same sentence. Here, it means there’s a lot of “bonjour” or “mon dieu.” I get that Devre is French, but the novel is in English, so throwing in high school French phrases to emphasize his Frenchness is unneeded and excessive in the worst way. And it happens a lot in Murder on the Champs-Elysees, so if this is a pet peeve then find your patience cap.
Murder on the Champs-Elysees was a good book with a strong main character and a fairly solid, if somewhat slow moving mystery. It has a few issues, but none of them are significant enough to forgo the book. If you enjoy a good detective read, then definitely give this one a try.