Monday, April 03, 2023

Lost in Paris by Betty Webb

 
First Lines: Zoe. December 1922. Paris. Despite the sudden snowstorm, Poker Friday was going well at the pretty little house on Rue Vavin.
 
It's been four years since Zoe Barlow's stepmother threw her off the family plantation in Mercy, Alabama, but she's managed to make a life for herself in Paris.
 
When Hadley Hemingway leaves a suitcase filled with her husband Ernest's manuscripts behind, Zoe doesn't hesitate to tell her friend that she'll look for it. What she doesn't know is that soon her search for a piece of missing luggage will take a backseat to the hunt for a ruthless killer.
 
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When I learned that Betty Webb had a new book coming out,  I was thrilled. I've long been a fan of both her Lena Jones and her Gunn Zoo mystery series. Although not a real fan of the post-World War I Paris setting, I don't think it really matters when a favorite author is involved. Unfortunately, when I read Lost in Paris, I felt as though I was lost in endless research that kept what could have been a taut, absorbing mystery from its rightful place in the spotlight.

Lost in Paris is really for devotees of social commentary and stories that immerse one in a specific time and place. This book does that very well indeed, but when, as I'm reading, I begin to wonder why certain things are in a book, that tends to be a red flag. Hemingway's missing manuscripts. Zoe earns extra cash by hosting Poker Fridays at her house. Her Wednesday salons where she feeds starving artists. A cab driver who happens to be Armenian so the recent genocide can be discussed. Zoe paints masks for les Mutil├ęs-- men whose faces were horribly disfigured in the war. The Trouser March. Mary Cassatt. Gertrude Stein. The list goes on.

Then there's Zoe's how-has-she-survived-it backstory. Her severely broken leg. The suspicious death of her father. Her evil stepmother. Zoe's scandalous behavior that got her exiled. Her younger sister's marriage and subsequent trip to Germany in which Hitler can be mentioned. I know a lot of this is setting up the characters and the series, but I was often frustrated by the mystery taking a backseat to all the historical detail.

Then there's Zoe, a character I never did warm up to. Her ill-advised affair with a married police officer-- and where is the author trying to take us with those occasional chapters written from the point of view of the police officer's wife? Yes, it's admirable that Zoe's sense of friendship is often stronger than her common sense, but there are only so many times that she can wander around alone at night almost falling down drunk before I can't resist rolling my eyes. Speaking of being drunk-- true to the times-- it's a wonder all the characters don't die of lung cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. 

The mystery is very good whenever it is allowed to have center stage, but I'm completely undecided in the matter of will-I-or-won't-I read the next book in the series-- something that's never happened before with this author. I'm feeling more than a bit disloyal.
 
Lost in Paris by Betty Webb
eISBN: 9781728269924
Poisoned Pen Press © 2023
eBook, 336 pages
 
Historical Mystery, #1 Zoe Barlow/Paris mystery
Rating: C
Source: Net Galley

8 comments:

  1. I'm sorry to hear that this one didn't do more for you, Cathy. I like Webb's work, too, and this does sound as though it could have been an excellent read. The premise sounded great, anyway. Well, perhaps if there's another in the series, it'll be better?

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    1. I think the odds would be good. She certainly did all the set-up in this book.

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  2. Good lord, there's a lot of...stuff going on in that book!

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  3. Well, you've helped me decide on this one; even my love of Paris isn't enough to overcome all of the obstacles your review mentioned.

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    1. I wondered if that might not be your reaction.

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  4. I'm always a fan of Paris as a setting for a book, but it's too bad the mystery in this one got a bit lost among all the history. And not liking the main character? That's always a drawback for me.

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    1. Yes, I normally have to have at least one character that I like, or reading the book can be a hard slog (which this book wasn't).

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