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by David Barrie
John Law Media, June 2012
372 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0956251862

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A woman is found dead in a Paris street in an expensive neighbourhood, stabbed through the heart. She left her lover's house in a hurry, leaving behind her handbag, but taking with her a rare 18th century book wrapped in an exquisite shawl, now stained with her blood. Captain Franck Guerin of the Brigade Criminelle is intrigued by the choice and his investigation leads him into the very different worlds of high finance and academia.

If I had to sum up Barrie's series in one word, I would be hard-pressed to decide between stylish and fascinating. Everything about the books is well-chosen, from the intriguing characters that people his pages to the pitch-perfect word choices in the descriptions of Paris and its inhabitants. It was good to meet old friends such as laconic crime scene investigator Georges Sternberg whose exchanges with Franck always provide humour and hard facts in equal measure, Franck's friend and sparring partner Sylvie Thomas, able to deliver admirably succinct explanations of the arcane workings of a hedge fund, and Franck's old boss, the formidable Catherine Vautrin. The passages when the two women successfully team up are a particular delight.

The suspects in the stabbing are equally well-drawn, particularly the dead woman's self-absorbed lover, the attractive and urbane Mathieu Devaux. This is a man who has made a successful career out of reeling in the money needed for his partner Alain Mangin, a billionaire trader, to use in his aim of bringing down one of France's biggest banks and making a phenomenal amount of money in the process. Barrie's portrayal of the crippled, acerbic Mangin, a man who prefers to sleep in run-down hotels rather than in the luxury of the house he shares with Devaux, is exceptionally vivid. The descriptions are as sharp as ever, each word chosen and employed to its best effect, contriving to make the details of high-end trading and 18th century literature a source of endless fascination, alongside the descriptions of Paris itself, a city that Barrie clearly knows intimately.

The story of Beauty and the Beast, as told in Madame de Villeneuve's book, found wrapped in the dead woman's shawl, is brought vividly back to life in Barrie's hands, but it is not until the stiletto-sharp denouement that the person playing the role of the Beast is unmasked.

This is a series that is growing in stature with each book and I really can't recommend it too highly. And while I didn't get my wish to meet the enigmatic Gabriel Agostini again, that plot strand from earlier books certainly hasn't been forgotten. The next book in the series can't come soon enough for me.

Linda Wilson is a writer and retired solicitor with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, August 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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