Young-adult novelist Sedgwick (A Love Like Blood, 2015) returns to Paris in his second book for adults, this time to La Belle Epoque, weaving murder and memory into an intense thriller.
From Île de la Cité to Pigalle, every nook and cranny of Paris-on-the-page provides a telling backdrop to the misadventures of Marcel Després, a peasant boy–turned-savant. Marcel remembers every detail of everything that has ever happened to him. This talent was undiscovered—in fact, unrealized—until he arrived in Paris from the vineyards of his native Étoges. In dire straits, Marcel’s artist friends transform his perfect memory into a stage act as Marcel Mémoire at the Cabaret of Insults. Soon naïve Marcel marries cabaret dancer Ondine, who's extraordinarily beautiful and practiced in using beauty as currency. Finding Ondine in flagrante delicto one day, Marcel strikes out and is immediately arrested for her murder. Too quickly, the legal process secrets him in an asylum. Sureté detective Petit is suspicious. Petit’s curiosity soon becomes a Javert-like obsession. Dr. Morel, the asylum’s Assistant Chief Alienist, at first thinks Marcel is catatonic, but he soon discovers that he's "lost in labyrinths" of infinite memories. Beautifully woven, the story soon becomes a tapestry of love and innocence, obsession and intellectual arrogance framed by corruption, assassination, and sexual perversion with a bit part for Russia’s Communist-hunting Okhrana secret service. Characters are shaped subtly but colorfully. Marcel navigates through the story much like Chance in Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There as Morel muses on the link between memory and identity. With chapter titles like "A Few Words About Magic," the narrative voice has an old-fashioned address-the-reader aura.
Marvelously imagined and sure to appeal to readers who enjoy an intelligent thriller.