DEATH IN THE LATIN QUARTER is the first novel by Raphael Cardetti, translated from the original French, released in English in 2010. Categorised on the cover as a "treasure-hunt tale", this is a book set in the halls of academia and the world of art collection, restoration and museums.
The story, as outlined in the blurb, revolves around Valentine Savi, a talented young restorer, taking in private commissions to clean and restore artwork on behalf of the great general public. She has fallen from grace, fired from a prestigious job after a mistake, which is slowly revealed as the book goes on. After being approached by an enigmatic elderly man with a unique commission, she quickly finds herself involved in nefarious plots to possess an ancient manuscript and the secrets it allegedly holds.
Okay, up front, I really really struggled to finish this book. Originally I thought it might be a slight personal wariness that I feel about these great artwork / secrets from the past / enigmatic old millionaires / playing fast and loose with everyone around them type scenarios. There were a number of things that worried me about this book: why we couldn't just confirm what had happened to make Savi lose her job so that we could all move on (it wasn't hard to take an educated guess after all). Why the Dean even had time to develop such a hump with some poor hapless student (and quite what all that was supposed to be about anyway). Why so many millionaire art-collectors have to be "enigmatic"; and most of all why their assistants have to be gorgeous, wound up like a top, perfectly coiffed blonde women (for that matter why are their bodyguards always "disguised" as the chauffeur and built like the proverbial without a brain cell to spare). And I haven't even mentioned the compound, the state of the art security system that wasn't, and the security consultant who would have been better paying more attention to the aforementioned state of the art security system, and a lot less to lusting after the main female characters. Whilst these sorts of books are very much about the manipulation of the reader experience, there must be something in the storytelling that makes the reader willing to go along with the obvious tension building, and I couldn't, no matter how hard I tried, swallow a lot of it.
At one point I thought I'd nailed the problem, assuming I'd missed a subtle sense of humour. Maybe the story was teasing me, it was supposed to be slightly tongue in cheek, and I'd misread the tone completely... Toiling on through the book, I looked for these signs, but I simply couldn't find them. Instead I found an increasing pile of overt red herrings, a bit of romantic tension, much rushing around and a hefty dose of telegraphed character-jep that would have made a movie fan pitch Jaffa's at the screen. As the pace tried to pick up in the book, my ability to stick with it was getting less and less. The villains were too much, the bad guy too obvious, the characterisations too clichéd and the plot too transparent for my taste.