Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Kirsty Manning’s latest contribution, The Paris Mystery, is promoted as being the beginning of a new crime series. There is much in this story that echoes back to the TV program Murder She Wrote. The protagonist is a woman who gets to wear beautiful clothes and is on the scene when a body is discovered. She is able to liaise with the policeman in charge of the murder investigation and be on hand when the culprit is apprehended. This does not, however, take away from the enjoyment of the read.
The protagonist is an Australian woman, Charlotte James, who, when her marriage collapses, takes up a post in Paris for The Times of London. The author tells the reader in the Acknowledgements that during the Covid lockdown she wanted to write ‘something a little lighter, sexier and more mysterious’ (301) than she had previously. She also mentions that her main character is based on ‘early female correspondents who were not given formal accreditation nor the support of their male colleagues’ (302). She mentions by name several notable Australian reporters from earlier times.
Charlotte, who prefers to be called Charlie, arrives in Paris pre–World War 2 to a different world from the one she has just left. ‘Sydney was still on its knees after hobbling through the Depression – many shopfronts remained empty, and many families were patching clothes, resoling shoes and cooking endless pots of broth’ (49-50). Paris was ‘luxuriating in the silky days of summer’ (35). It glittered and shimmered and never slept while those who could, danced along trying to keep up.
Because of her work, Charlie finds herself accepted into the new Parisian Society and their sumptuous parties, couture fashion, bohemian wine bars and secrets. At the centre of this group is Lady Ashworth, actress turned New York society darling then grande dame of Versailles. It is while Charlie is attending this hostess’s extravagant Circus Ball, that a body is found after a young woman screams then staggers out of the trees carrying a bloodied knife.
As expected, there are many who could have done the deed – those with no alibi and a motive for removing the now deceased banker. Each must be investigated, and they are all part of Lady Ashworth’s inner circle.
The writing is full of detailed and beautiful descriptions of Paris at this time, what people were wearing and the food they were eating. Even at the funeral of the victim, the beauty of the city and the fashion of attendees is highlighted. The suits and black cars at the funeral ‘were at odds to the pink hues thrown across the marble steps and walls by the late afternoon sun… In a black turtleneck twin-set, black pencil skirt and dark red lipstick, Violet was the only person Charlie knew who could pull off provocative and appropriate at a funeral’ (140). Even the police inspector’s clothing is meticulously described (259). Much attention is given to the world of couture, and the various fashion houses in Paris. ‘Framed by the atelier’s doorway, Alexsandr stood in a tailored burgundy suit with a ruffled collar and sleeves’ (236). This all adds to the richness of the reading experience.
The front cover of the book portrays a young woman with red hair in a navy dress which dips down to a deep V at the back. This is obviously meant to be the protagonist in Sydney before she goes to Paris (186). Each time my eyes fell on this cover, I was reminded of red head matches as the face seems identical to the one used on the match boxes.
Charlie went to Paris to reinvent herself and after several soirees and fabulous dresses, decided that she had officially ‘reached the peak of Parisian insanity’ (230). It had been less than two months that Charlie had been a Paris Correspondent for The Times. What a strange start it had been to her life in Paris.
This book follows several well received novels by the same author which have also been published in the US and in Europe. These include her first novel in 2017, The Midsummer Garden, The jade Lilly in 2018, The Lost Jewels, in 2020 and The French Gift the following year. All have been well researched and are interesting reads.
Kirsty Manning has produced another interesting story with The Paris Mystery.
The Paris Mystery
By Kirsty Manning
Allen & Unwin