THE PARIS ENIGMA - Pablo De Santis

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The Paris Enigma
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Book Synopsis

A legendary group of sleuths, the Twelve Detectives, come together for the first time at the 1889 World Fair in Paris.  But the occasion provokes their greatest challenge when one of them, Louis Dabon, is found murdered at the base of the Fair's second most famous exhibit, the newly built 'Eiffel Tower'.

Book Review

The Twelve Detectives are a famous group of crime solving individuals - spread throughout the world.  In the 1880's their exploits are well known - the magazine The Key to Crime regularly publishes the story of their investigations.  Sigmundo Salvatrio works in his father's shoe repair shop, but he doesn't dream of being a cobbler - his dream is to join the ranks of the acolytes of the world famous investigators.  It seems a pipe dream as Renato Craig, the only one of the detectives who lives in Buenos Aires has always opposed recruitment of his own acolyte.  Sigmundo is therefore astounded when Craig advertises for a group of young people to become his students - to learn all he knows about investigation techniques.  He promptly applies and becomes one of Craig's enthusiastic students.

Eventually Sigmundo finds himself at the 1889 Paris World Fair a year later, as Craig's representative.  Events since the formation of the school have meant that Craig is unable to attend one of the few gatherings of the entire group of Twelve Detectives.  But the pleasure (and trepidation) that Sigmundo feels at having this honour bestowed on him is soon lessened when another of the great Detectives - Louis Dabon - is found at the base of the Eiffel Tower.  Craig pairs up with the other Paris based member of the Twelve, the Polish Viktor Arzaky, to search for the truth.

THE PARIS ENIGMA is translated from its original Spanish, set in the late 1880's.  This combination could provide some explanation for the stylings used, as well as the general pace of the entire story, but it doesn't quite cover why the book seems to wander around a lot.  The blurb does seem to indicate that this should be a story about the group The Twelve Detectives, but it is told totally from Sigmundo's point of view, and thus is mostly him, his reactions to the events surrounding him, and his understanding of the investigation into Dabon's death.  Whilst he does collaborate to a certain extent with Arzaky - really all the other members of the Detectives - and their acolytes - are bit players at most.

The book also seems to lack a feeling of place - the setting in 1889 World Fair Paris seems to be glossed over - there is some discussion of the Eiffel Tower, in terms of its location for the murder of Dabon, and there are passing references to hotels and furnishings, but really the book could have taken place in any location.  The timeframe is interesting because it does provide an opportunity for the investigation elements to be stripped down to the bare essentials - this is obviously a tale that hails from before modern investigative techniques, communications options and procedures. It is probably that sense of time that is best served by the style of story-telling and language that is used.

THE PARIS ENIGMA is not an unpleasant or difficult book to read - it is quite entertaining in some places.  The Twelve Detectives hold the cerebral nature of their technique in high regard.  They are fond of story-telling, and throughout the book there are sprinklings of tales of many of their famous cases.  There are sprinklings of extraneous little puzzles, there's a bit of romance and intrigue, and then there is the reason for their presence at the World Fair - their own exhibition.  But most of this is skimmed over, or seems somewhat "stuck" into the middle of the narrative frequently, it seemed, because of the attractiveness of the small vignette.  At one point I felt compelled to do a little online research to try to work out if the book had originally been a series of short stories that had been interconnected with a narrative.  

Amusing, but definitely not deep, THE PARIS ENIGMA is probably not the book for people who like a beginning, a middle, an end and a firm sense of purpose.  If you're looking for a wander around in an 1880's style labyrinth with very little reason for being, it could very well appeal.

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