It’s my stop on the blog tour for Paris in the Dark by Robert Olen Butler – the fourth novel to feature US reporter and undercover agent Kit Cobb.
Autumn 1915. The First World War is raging across Europe. Woodrow Wilson has kept Americans out of the trenches, although that hasn’t stopped young men and women from crossing the Atlantic to volunteer at the front.
Christopher Marlowe ‘Kit’ Cobb, a Chicago reporter and undercover agent for the US government is in Paris when he meets an enigmatic nurse called Louise. Officially in the city for a story about American ambulance drivers, Cobb is grateful for the opportunity to get to know her but soon his intelligence handler, James Polk Trask, extends his mission. Parisians are meeting ‘death by dynamite’ in a new campaign of bombings, and the German-speaking Kit seems just the man to discover who is behind this – possibly a German operative who has infiltrated with the waves of refugees? And so begins a pursuit that will test Kit Cobb, in all his roles, to the very limits of his principles, wits and talents for survival.
Fleetly plotted and engaging with political and cultural issues that resonate deeply today, Paris in the Dark is a page-turning novel of unmistakable literary quality.
The novel starts slowly, giving the reader a neat introduction to the time in which Paris in the Dark is set. At this point – 1915 – President Wilson has kept America out of the war, and the American volunteers who are taking part are doing so under their own steam. Kit Cobb is ostensibly there to report upon the efforts of these volunteers, focussing particularly on those who are driving ambulances between the front lines and the hospitals being used to treat those who are injured. I thought that period in which Paris in the Dark is set was fascinating, and I loved the noir feel to the novel. The First World War isn’t one that I’ve read a lot about in fiction, but Butler gives the reader an excellent sense of both time and place, and I loved the inclusion of little historical details that bring the story to life.
If the novel starts slowly, the pace soon picks up as Kit is given a new assignment by his intelligence handler. A number of bombings have taken place in Paris, and it’s believed that a German operative has infiltrated the city under the guise of a refugee in order to sow destruction and to demoralise the Allies. The German-speaking Kit is the ideal man to investigate, and the novel soon reveals itself as an intense spy thriller as Kit’s investigation proves to be anything other than straightforward. This isn’t my usual kind of read, but it’s one that I really enjoyed, the setting and the wider context making this a fascinating novel that is rich in historical detail whilst still being, ultimately, an exciting espionage thriller.
Paris in the Dark is excellently plotted, and I loved how the various storylines came together by the end of the novel, building up to a thrilling conclusion. There is action, a little romance, and the plot twists unexpectedly as Kit’s investigation gets underway. Paris in the Dark an excellent read, and one that I’d recommend to both those who enjoy a spy thriller or those who might be new to the genre. Whilst this is the fourth novel in the series, I felt that this worked well as a standalone novel, and the reader doesn’t miss out on anything by having not read the earlier books in this series.
Paris in the Dark is published by No Exit Press. Many thanks to the publisher and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the review copy and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour.
Make sure you check out the other stops on the tour: