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Sister Mary Murderous

Favorite genres are traditional mystery, police procedurals, espionage, Eurocrime, literary fiction and nonfiction history, especially WW2 and Cold War.  I write about crime fiction at Read Me Deadly (www.readmedeadly.com)

Charles Belfoure: The Paris Architect

The Paris Architect - Charles Belfoure

After five short chapters, I made notes of what I thought would happen in this book and, no surprise, I was correct. In the author's Q&A at the end of the book, Belfoure describes his novel-writing process as being similar to an architectural project. He first devised the plot, and then he populated it. I suspected as much.


The plot certainly keeps the reader turning the pages but, at least in my case, I was turning them more and more quickly because I wanted to be done with the book. The problem was that although Belfoure's structure--the plot--was sound, albeit predictable, his characterization and dialog were seriously flawed.


It was a good idea of Belfoure's to have the protagonist, Lucien Bernard, be a man with no sympathy for the plight of France's Jews, but who was drawn into saving Jews--first, through ambition, but then from conviction. Beyond that, though, the characters were flat, stock characters, and/or devices to help move along the plot. Sometimes they were inconsistent and changing in a moment, just to serve the plot.


For example, Belfoure apparently felt that Bernard, being a Frenchman from Paris, must have a wife and a mistress, so he did, even though the wife, Celeste, was an almost entirely undeveloped character and could easily have been eliminated from the novel. The mistress, Adele, seemed to be there only to help illustrate the stock character of the "horizontal collaborator," help the reader to get to know the depths of Nazi evil, and put Bernard in dangerous situations with the Nazis.


The dialog was wooden, and characters used slang and vernacular that wasn't appropriate to the time or place. It was disconcerting to read Bernard's memory of a clerk who regularly came back from lunch "shitfaced," another character saying "hey, shithead" to an office boy, an old man calling Bernard "motherf[@@@]er." Of course, the French of the 1940s had their own low-down slang, but these terms just didn't translate as being equivalents. They sounded way too modern and American.


Then there is a scene that made me laugh out loud when a character says to Bernard: "with men like you in the fight, I'm sure we'll win." It was almost a straight copy of a scene in the movie Casablanca. Then there was the strangeness of references to characters having a "heeb look." The pejorative term, which is what these characters intended, is spelled h-e-b-e. (Modern slang appropriates "heeb," but not as a pejorative.) A spellcheck program would have highlighted this mistake, so I'm not sure why it wasn't corrected. This would be a mistake not worth mentioning in a stronger novel, but when it's one of several other clunkers in word use, it's harder to overlook.


I read a lot of World War II history and fiction, and I agree with historian Max Hastings' description of that war as the greatest and most terrible event in human history. I think it's extremely challenging for a first-time author of fiction to dive into such difficult waters. In this case, I think the challenge was a bit too much for Belfoure's current skills with character development and dialog.