Brief reviews of recent releases: 'The Paris Architect,' by Charles Belfoure, and 'No Man's Nightingale,' by Ruth Rendell.
THE PARIS ARCHITECT
By Charles Belfoure. (Sourcebooks Landmark, 364 pages, $25.99.)
Lucien Bernard is not a likable man. An architect in Nazi-occupied Paris, he does his best to keep his head down, to ignore the atrocities taking place all around him and to do whatever he can to earn money, including designing armament factories for the Germans. He cheats on his wife, is only mildly shocked when the Gestapo guns down a Jewish man feet away from him, scorns Resistance fighters and others who sacrifice their own safety to fight the Nazis, and is generally narcissistic and vain.
But it is exactly these qualities that make him a great protagonist in architect/author Charles Belfoure’s novel “The Paris Architect.” Over a period of months, Lucien goes from being a self-serving man to a self-sacrificing one, even though he has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the realms of ethics and courage. For a great deal of money, he starts to design hiding places for Jews, and when one fails with gruesome results, he is mortified and sets out to do more to help besieged and terrified people.
By book’s end, he has not become a truly good man, but he is a far better one. He’s a great literary character set amid a lot of rather stereotypical potboiler stuff — Paris, glamorous even when impoverished; brutal Nazis who torture people at the drop of a hat; glamorous women, most of whom Lucien sleeps with; righteous gentiles who try to make him one of them, and cocky Resistance fighters. A terrific thriller, made all the better by our knowledge that stuff like this really happened.
Pamela Miller, west metro team leader
NO MAN's NIGHTINGALE
By Ruth Rendell. (Scribner, 275 pages, $26.)
Inspector Wexford does it again. Ruth Rendell’s literate, decent detective is retired now, but his friend Detective Superintendent Burden lures him back to the chase when an Anglican minister is murdered in the vicarage, leaving behind a beautiful teenage daughter who doesn’t know her parentage.
Wexford is deeply intrigued by the case of the female, mixed-race vicar who had generated so much controversy, and he’s also slightly desperate to escape the chatty new cleaning lady at his house and get back to reading Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”
What I love about the prolific Rendell is her adherence to the elegant traditions of British mysteries without ignoring modern life — mobile phones, Google searches and immigrants’ grandchildren facing racism despite their perfect British accents.
Catherine Preus, copy editor