In Ayotte’s debut novel, an American priest is the linchpin that links an affair in the City of Light to a murderous succession plot for the throne of an oil-rich Arab nation.
Even a man of the cloth can succumb to temptation. While on vacation in Paris to celebrate his ordination, Father Richard Merrill met a bubbly, blue-eyed tour guide named Françoise DuPont, a girl with whom he forsook his vow of chastity. He put the transgression behind him for 35 years—until he learned that his sin wasn’t the only one unconfessed. Françoise had been keeping a secret too, and unanticipated consequences have come to light. After receiving a desperate missive from her, Merrill must find a way to help. Jim Howard, a Vietnam veteran turned life-insurance salesman, is recommended to the priest for the job by a mutual friend. Once Jim’s mission has been set in motion, he largely disappears from the plot as Ayotte sweeps backward in time, recounting Merrill’s schooldays in rural New England and that fateful rendezvous in Paris, along with Françoise’s childhood, upstart career at the Louvre and Grace Kelly–esque romance with the prince of Khatamori. Though Merrill serves as the link to all of the characters in the novel, Françoise is its heart. Her segments are the strongest, stylistically. Ayotte brings her character to life as Francoise learns Paris’ landmarks on walks with her father, Louis; suffers the German occupation that abruptly puts an end to their outings; and celebrates when the Allies liberate France. It’s an intimate perspective on a pivotal time in the city’s history: Françoise describes seeing Paris come “alive again.” Moments that allow visibility into characters’ interior thoughts are rare, however, and action unfolds too quickly for much reflection. But the romance and danger juxtaposed with unusual twists and confused identities create an interesting read.
An intriguing if superficial thriller that spans the globe, from fictional Khatamori to Boston to picturesque midcentury Paris.