...to visit Paris.
I don't know if the books are finding me, or if I'm finding them, but I just can't get enough of this city! One of the perks of my friendship with Ron, editor of this magazine, is that he also writes reviews for Library Journal, so he sometimes sends me books he's reviewed (pre-publication, folks!) that he thinks I might like. He was dead right with this one.
It's Rebecca Stott's second novel, and it's set in post-Napoleonic Paris. The protagonist, Daniel Connor, is a naive young Englishman sent by his professor to study natural science with the masters at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, where Daniel has hopes to work directly with M. Cuvier himself. He has been brought up with a firm faith in God and the Genesis story of creation, a belief that is shaken on the coach ride to Paris when he discusses natural history with an alluring older woman. She talks about the near-agelessness of coral, of the stories those polyps could tell if they had words to do it, of how Paris itself used to be a seabed above which monstrous plesiosaurs and other fishes used to swim before one day one of them crawled forth from the water and exchanged its fins for feet.
Daniel tells her about the rare corals he has in the knapsack beside him, along with his notebooks and a letter of introduction to M. Cuvier. They talk long into the night, and just outside the outskirts of Paris, Daniel falls asleep. When he awakens, he finds that his knapsack has been stolen, all except his wallet which has been tucked inside his jacket.
With no letter of introduction, no notebooks, no rare specimens for his mentor, Daniel thinks of leaving Paris for home. But he decides to stay a bit longer, talk to a detective, and search for another glimpse of that bewitching woman, the woman who probably stole his treasures.
Daniel finally does find Lucienne Bernard, or rather she finds him, and somehow, he discovers he would rather NOT tell the police detective about their meeting. Or the next. Or the next. And soon, Daniel finds himself caught in a web of deception where nothing is what he once thought it was.
I found myself caught in that same web as I read. Rebecca seamlessly weaves the strands of history with adventure and romance, and I learned much about Paris in the beginning of the nineteenth century. But I never felt like I was being schooled. It was an education that I was pleased to recieve, as I learned about the origins of street names in Paris, about the love the Parisians had for their lost Emperor, about the cutthroat world of scientific discovery in the decades before Darwin, about the night life of Paris in 1815.
Read it. I promise you'll enjoy it. And you'll certainly learn something.