Bookseller Victor Legris’s second case begins with the vanishing of a recent widow from Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris and ends half a world away.
1890. Drawn by a spiritualist’s communication from beyond the grave, Odette de Valois has come to Père-Lachaise to appease the restless shade of her husband Armand, a geologist who died of yellow fever while he was working on Ferdinand de Lesseps’s abortive attempt to duplicate the success of the Suez Canal in the Colombian isthmus of Panama. No sooner has she laid the offering Armand demanded at his gravesite, however, than Odette disappears. Her maid Denise De Louarn, baffled and frightened, turns in desperation to the only man she knows in Paris: Odette’s ex-lover Victor Legris. It’s an excellent choice, because Victor, an amateur sleuth who shot to fame a year before (Murder on the Eiffel Tower, 2008), is resourceful and persistent, and Joseph Pignot, his assistant in the bookshop with a mysterious sideline, has a wonderfully useful habit of clipping articles about all sorts of unsolved mysteries from the newspapers. The resulting chain of crimes, which extends from fraud to theft to multiple murder, ends up involving a long-ago killing, a prized painting pursued by the living and the dead and illusionists of every stripe.
The chief pleasures here are the densely woven web of period details and anecdotes and the chance to rub shoulders with characters who casually embody the most piquant contradictions of a culture both foreign and oddly familiar.