Title: Murder on the Champs-Élysées: A Belle-Époque Mystery (The Belle-Époque Mysteries #1)
Author: Alex Mandon
Publisher: Avid Press
Release Date: December 21, 2016
Genre(s): Historical, Murder/Mystery
Page Count: 262
Reviewed by: Crabbypatty
Heat Level: 2 flames out of 5
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Paris, 1900. The height of the Belle-Époque: decadence, wealth, hedonism…and murder.
Homicide investigator Guillaume Devré stands for the silenced victims, bound to seek justice as he makes his way from the wide boulevards frequented by the tout-Paris to the narrow byways of Montmartre, to the shadow of the Tour Eiffel and the lush elegance of Maxim’s.
When the most famous courtesan in Paris becomes the prime suspect in the death of a wealthy young man, Inspector Devré is reluctantly drawn into the opulent parlors and witty manners of high society. As the investigation unfolds, he must contend with a bloodthirsty press and the outrageous behavior of his suspect…as well as his own prejudices and unfulfilled needs.
Devré soon realizes that solving this murder could expose him and his darkest secret.
Murder on the Champs-Élysées is the first in a new series featuring Inspector Guillaume Devré, a homicide detective from la Sûreté who lives a secret life on the fringes of respectable society, the powerful courtesan known as La Balise—with secrets of her own—and the gruff but brilliant American pathologist Dr. Jackson.
Murder on the Champs-Élysées is set in 1900 Paris – a Paris just opening its Exposition Universelle, with the Paris Metro scheduled to open later in the year, the Eiffel Tower (built about 10 years prior) is begrudgingly tolerated by Parisians, and Maxim’s with its Art Nouveau decor is the place to see and be seen. This is the story of two individuals who are “walking carefully on a line balancing the light and dark sides of [their lives]” – homicide detective Guillaume Devré, an inverti or pédéraste (the most common term gay men used to describe themselves at the time) and Mme. Lucie-Geneviève Madeleine, an upper-crust courtesan or les grands horizontals known as La Balaise (the “beacon” of femininity) who is the 1900 equivalent of perhaps Princess Diana as far as celebrity and press scrutiny.
They are brought together by a murder that is slowly and cleverly unfurled throughout the book along with a cast of memorable secondary characters such as Dr. Jackson, a brilliantly eccentric police pathologist, Doctor Émile Huvet, M. Hélène, Lucie’s former lover Christophe Calmette, Aloysius (Lucie’s huge Moorish half-brother), etc. Small glimpses of Lucie’s past are tantalizingly revealed bit by bit (Kyoto? Jail? Murder?) while Inspector Devré must always keep his own truth hidden while endeavoring to unearth other’s secrets and solve his case.
I don’t want to give away anything about the murder because the author does such a wonderful job of keeping the interest and suspense going. My only quibble is that the ending seemed very rushed and focused only on Lucie. Overall, I was absolutely fascinated by the story and especially the main characters and felt it beautifully introduces Paris of the time (with just enough details and background) while giving us the start to a series of mysteries featuring La Balaise and Devré. 4.5 stars!
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