An American boy in Paris and his Gypsy nanny--in a not wholly on-the-mark, but nonetheless offbeat, inventive debut. Mercedes de los Angeles in an illegal alien in Paris, a young Spanish Gypsy who listens to love songs, reads tabloids, and dreams of romance and of becoming a great flamenco dancer. But her reality is that she cannot find work as a maid (she's too beautiful to be trusted under the roof with anyone's husband) and men are pigs. Her admirers--an IRA terrorist, the butcher's son, the aged Baron de Rothschild, among others--all betray her. The exception (at least for a while) is her charge, Tim, in the eccentric Cardozo household where she is finally hired. Tim is the half-Jewish son of a globe-trotting American movie mogul and an always-on-tour opera diva; he has Napoleonic fantasies and an Algerian classmate friend with foul personal habits and a glass eye, and he becomes obsessed with Mercedes: her confidences, her affection, her beauty, and her tantalizing bear-cave aroma. Their relationship deepens under the roof of the Cardozos' historic, rat- (and perhaps crocodile-) infested mansion (where secret passageways lead to the Irish Embassy next door and where prisms from the chandelier cast rainbows on the wall)--as well as under the noses of Tim's aunties (who are just blind and deaf enough to be odd, but not so much that they can't hear and see when necessary to the plot) and the other servants, an alternately fighting and loving couple in exile from Franco's Spain. Tim and Mercedes finally, inevitably, have an affair that ends with her pregnant and sent packing. She takes refuge with a Jesuit priest (Tim's school principal), has her baby, dances at the Folies-BergÃ‰re, and falls madly in love with her Jesuit, finding in him the loyalty she's craved. The author does best when he's describing Paris; his characters, on the other hand, strain so hard to be colorful that they never become real. And while Mercedes talks a lot about passion, that's what this first novel lacks, offering instead whimsy and calculated charm.