THE PARIS KEY
By Juliet Blackwell. (New American Library, 358 pages, $15 paperback.)
Beginning with the title, metaphors run amok in this half-fetching, half-maddening novel by California mystery writer, artist and anthropologist Juliet Blackwell. Pensive protagonist Genevieve (properly pronounced Zhon-vee-ev, she informs us early on), who is fascinated by locks, keys and secrets, moves from California to Paris to take over her late uncle’s locksmith shop after her husband has an affair. “A creeping dissatisfaction nibbled at the edges of her heart,” we are told, quite unnecessarily.
Genevieve is self-absorbed and not terribly likable, but her situation is interesting. Then — what a surprise! — being in Paris unlocks her heart, her family secrets and a good deal more. The rambling novel features some of the predictable traits of many novels about Paris written by Americans — a female main character who’s having trouble getting her act together, an old family secret whose roots lie in Paris, and a handsome man knocking on the door THE VERY FIRST DAY SHE ARRIVES!
Similarly hokey is a scene in which Genevieve, who has been to Paris before and seems to know a lot about it, is surprised by the existence of a “Locks of Love” bridge on the Seine, whose presence she is alerted to by, of course, the handsome gentleman. Still, the story will work like catnip for anyone who loves walking, eating, drinking or romancing in Paris. It’s nicely written, and its overlapping stories — that of Genevieve and that of her mysterious late mother, who also lived in Paris for a time — are ultimately charming, even though the mystery at the heart of those stories is solvable the moment it is introduced. When the setting is Paris, many flaws may be forgiven. That’s the key!
West/North metro editor
AN ENGLISHMAN IN MADRID
By Eduardo Mendoza; translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor. (Quercus/MacLehose, 354 pages, $26.99.)
The pre-World War II decade, with its slow-moving clash of fascism and communism across Europe, has offered a rich backdrop for tense, intrigue-laced fiction.
Spanish writer Eduardo Mendoza offers up one of the best such works in “An Englishman in Madrid.” The year is 1936, and art expert Anthony Whitelands is summoned from England to Madrid by a Spanish nobleman to appraise his artwork. As the threat of civil war permeates the nation, Whitelands is enveloped in comically dangerous political conspiracies and romance.
This is a highly entertaining novel whose deep glimpses into Spanish society place it several notches above the usual historical thriller. For readers who never pick up translated Spanish novels, this is a good reason to start.