The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King


Genre: adult historical fiction, mystery

My rating: 2.5/5

Life lesson: Avoid artists.


This novel opens well, with Bennett Grey (a secondary character) receiving a mysterious envelope with photographs of terrified women inside. Maybe “well” is the wrong word for that — it opens with a good hook might be a better way to phrase it. But, unfortunately, the pace of the rest of the novel is really awful.

Harris Stuyvesant is a detective hired to find a missing young woman, Pip Crosby, in 1920’s Paris. The setting is a character of its own in this novel; the 1920’s was the heart of both the Modernist and Surrealist movements and Paris was the cultural and creative epicenter. Artists and writers such as Man Ray, Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Cole Porter make frequent cameos (or more) throughout the novel. I personally enjoyed these references, but that’s probably because I teach both Hemingway and Fitzgerald and therefore have a  lot of prior knowledge about Modernism and Surrealism. But, if you don’t know much about either of those movements, you might find yourself a bit lost with the details. The primary focus is on Surrealist art, and I’ll let King explain what that means in her novel:

“Planned art was a sham, film with plot a travesty. The goal of art was to reflect dream back to reality, and vice versa — to explore the ways in which death and pleasure were one, as were ugliness and beauty, the animal and the divine. Art was improvisation an irrationality, based in the wisdom of the unconscious self, and any true artist must declare his mind open to impulse, repudiating the tyranny of structure, of planning, of thought itself. Dreams were truth. Accident was purpose; unconscious expression was the greatest form art could take” (101).

That excerpt is pretty typical of this story’s writing style, so if that makes you want to read more, pick this book up. The “bones” in the title refer to how a small subset of Surrealist artists obsessed over how a body in death is art.

I liked the characters well enough, although Harris seemed a little underdeveloped, and like I said in an earlier paragraph, I really enjoyed the setting and the Surrealist/Modernist cameos. What I didn’t like was the pacing. The plot was interesting, but there were probably 200 unnecessary pages in the middle that draaaggged on. The resolution and “bad guy” were easy to guess, and there wasn’t much of a twist to keep me engaged and surprised toward the end.

I’m giving it a 2.5. I originally had it a three, but while writing this review I realized there was more I didn’t like about this novel than I did like. Alas, onto the next!


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