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by Frédérique Molay and Jeffrey Zuckerman, trans.
Le French Book, January 2015
212 pages
ISBN: 1939474183

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The press gathers as a major modern art project from the 1980s is about to be revealed. A dinner tableau was buried by the artist Samuel Cassain in Paris' old slaughterhouse district with the plan to open it up to acclaim 30 years later. As the shovels dig, a body is found, the body of Cassain's son, also an artist, who went missing and was assumed to have disappeared to a new life in America at just about the time of the tableau's interment. While Chief of Police, Nico Sirsky, and his team are in the process of determining that the body is that of Cassain's son, a number of murders take place in Paris that seem to be linked to the 30 year old death. The ties between what is eventually determined to be the artist's murder in the 80s and recent murders become stronger and stronger as the investigation continues.

At the same time that he is dealing with this complex investigation, Sirsky is also dealing with his mother's hospitalization and critical condition. He worries about his mother and re-examines his relationship to her ardent Russian Orthodox religion. The book is written in chapters that alternate between the murders, the police investigation, and Sirky's family life. The short-chapter (some chapters less than even a page) structure of the book keeps the reader engaged and moving through THE CITY OF BLOOD quickly.

This book is full of characters, and most are not well developed. It becomes very difficult to keep track of the different policemen, especially when names as similar as Maurin and Moumen are used to distinguish them. Many pages include nearly a dozen different characters interacting, and not the same dozen throughout the book. There is little characterization to help the reader develop images to match with the names. Although Sirsky is the main character, even he is not particularly well developed. Perhaps this is because this is the third book in the series; if readers have read the first two books there is a greater likelihood they will have come to know Sirsky already. The missing sense of character is exacerbated by the author's tendency to reveal information through dialog. The characters are constantly talking to one another, and I found it difficult to keep track of the relationship between the characters as they spoke.

Some of the landmarks in Paris make appearances in the book, and this helps place the book geographically. However, just as the human characters don't become real to the reader, Molay does not transport the reader to the city. The book is translated from the original French, so I imagine that the author did not feel it necessary to build the culture of the city for natives. But reading this as an American, I can envision the action taking place in nearly any city (minus the aforementioned landmarks). The author occasionally takes excursions into the past, filling the reader in on the history of an area, but this does little to create atmosphere.

All in all, THE CITY OF BLOOD was a quick read made interesting because of the ties to modern art. But it does not have me rushing out to dig into the back story from the previous two books in the series.

§ Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, February 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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