In the City of Light, just as it is about to be illuminated by the 1889 World’s Fair, a series of murders baffles an international band of detectives. Zut!
Argentine journalist and comic-strip creator De Santis chooses one of the moments when the Western world leapt further into the modern age to tell a slim and wistful story of a group of detectives. His narrator is Sigmundo Salvatrio, brainy and modestly ambitious son of a Buenos Aires shoemaker, who jumps at the advertised chance to train under Renato Craig, one of The Twelve Detectives, an intercontinental association of sleuths whose exploits are the grist for hugely popular pulp magazines. Each of the Twelve Detectives has an assistant—an acolyte—who extends his reach and, in some cases, documents his (there are no women in their number) deeds. Salvatrio is too modest to think he might become Craig’s acolyte, but he excels at the training and, when the most promising student is murdered while on assignment, Craig anoints Salvatrio, and he assists the master in the solution of his classmate’s demise and its ghastly denouement, a second murder that involves Craig and which leads to Salvatrio’s mission to Paris when Craig falls ill. Salvatrio subsequently checks in with his fellow acolytes and meets their famous mentors. Like any band of geniuses, they are a complex lot, with huge egos, conflicting methods and longstanding rivalries. The Twelve become the Eleven when their senior member, one of two contenders for the Greatest Detective of Paris, slips in a puddle of deliberately spilled oil on the nearly finished Eiffel Tower and falls to his death. That shocking event is followed by the burning of a taxidermed corpse and the drowning of a mermaid, mysteries to test the greatest minds.
Faintly charming, like an elegant but impractical antique automobile.