A woman’s Paris trip is an opportunity to learn all she can about her wealthy, reticent father, whose sudden death may reveal more secrets in Cooke’s (A Tale of Two Hotels, 2015, etc.) dramatic thriller.
Twenty-three-year-old New Yorker Sara Mammon knows very little about her dad, Saul, a zealous businessman currently living in France. So when he invites her for a Christmas visit in 1979, she takes a three-month leave of absence from her job. Hoping to better understand her father, Sara realizes that Saul’s ruthless in his business dealings, unconcerned with inciting people’s wrath. He, for one, promises the exclusive on his Moscow hotel’s imminent opening to the Russians but readily hands the scoop to someone else. Sara has a lot to contend with in Paris, starting with Saul’s uncivil, materialistic German girlfriend, Renata. There’s also Sara’s dalliance with French journalist Denys Déols, whose articles on Saul don’t paint her father in the brightest colors. But things take an appalling turn when Sara discovers Saul’s body; he’s dead of an apparent heart attack. She believes it’s murder and is determined to find the killer, but the suspect list isn’t brief. Saul, who made frequent excursions to Russia, may have been on the CIA’s payroll or a double agent for the KGB. There’s murder and mystery in Cooke’s tale, but it’s not truly a murder mystery. Saul himself is the enigma, more so than the peculiar circumstances surrounding his death. A complex character, he seems to reject all intimacy, likely due to being an outcast in his youth for uneven legs and an ear bandaged from surgery. The murder, meanwhile, hardly changes Sara’s purpose: she’s still learning about Saul; like meeting his (possible) CIA contact. Cooke’s narrative reads like poetry, but it’s neither verbose nor dismissive of the plot. For example, as an irate Sara waits on Déols’ doorstep: “The edge of stone beneath her buttocks was pointed, but not nearly so sharp as her thoughts of the journalist.” Sara may or may not identify the murderer(s), but it’s beside the point. Her riveting journey involves understanding Saul, in both life and death.
A surprisingly tender story of a daughter devoted to knowing her father, even posthumously.