Monday, June 29, 2015

Folly du Jour by Barbara Cleverly (A Joe Sandilands mystery)

In a letter to the reader at the beginning of Folly du Jour, the seventh installment of the Joe Sandilands series, Barbara Cleverly confesses that is she could travel in time she would choose to go to Paris during the 1920s (in case she couldn't get back, she'd wouldn't mind being stuck there).

To that end, there is a bit of wish-fulfillment in this installment and I don't think I'd recommend it as an introduction to the series. But I would recommend reading it.

Folly du Jour serves as a wonderful, glossy tour of post-World War I France.  In its pages we witness Charles Lindbergh's landing in Paris, hear tantalizing comments about Josephine Baker's banana dance (and get to see one of her performances!), hear all about how Louis Armstrong is playing at a jazz club and even get treated to a possible resurgence of the French apache street gangs (pronounced apachu).

Fortunately, Cleverly is a skilled enough writer that none of these events seem too forced and all eventually become credibly relevant to the mystery at hand. The only exception being Lindbergh's landing (but who can blame a historical fiction writer of any genre for including that event? After all, it's Lindbergh's landing in Paris! And when in Paris...).

As for the mystery itself -- a gentleman rogue gets his throat slit at a Josephine Baker performance; a friend of Sandilands' is found kneeling beside his corpse, drenched in blood, and wrongfully arrested for the murder -- Cleverly includes good versions of all the best mystery plot devices. There's a femme fatale, a mastermind that surprised even me, a veteran armchair sleuth, and a fantastic, satisfying ending confrontation. Sandilands is joined by his friend and French counterpart, a character I wouldn't mind seeing more of in the future.

The gentleman diplomat who is wrongly accused of murder, Sir George Jardine, is equally affable company.

Where most authors would run a risk of doing too much with too many people, Cleverly manages to create a smooth, but engrossing, read. But be warned -- it is somehow lighter, more "fun" than some of the earlier books in this series, although the murder and its motive are brutal. One glimpses some parts of the seedy Paris underground, but doesn't get to be in it. Everything feels like it has been polished to a bright shine and airbrushed with the author's own nostalgia.

And, oddly, Cleverly seems positively obsessed with the word "louche." Don't get me wrong, that is a great word that Cleverly has perfect opportunity to use. But it seemed to crop up at least once every few chapters. It was such a surprising, rookie mistake it was a tad distracting.

Again, however, the story doesn't suffer for this. That being said, I would like to see more on the character development, long-term plot arc front. There was an awkward coffee with a certain lady in the last book...

But then, I suppose that's why we read mystery series, isn't it? 

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