The first thing to say about The Paris Enigma is that it is stunning to look at. Not just the front cover – the back is in the style of a newspaper trailing the contents of the book and inside the front cover is a series of headlines.
A lot for this debut novel to live up to. Does it? Very nearly.
Sigmundo Salvatrio is the son of a shoemaker and his ambition is to work with one of the world famous “Twelve Detectives”. And he does. He wins a place at a school for assistants created by the great Argentine detective Renato Craig. He gets the job, not necessarily because he is the best candidate, but because he is the last man standing.
It’s a busy and entertaining start.
Craig falls ill and Salvatrio is sent to Paris, where the World’s Fair is about to begin, to attend the first ever meeting of “The Twelve” in place of his mentor. It is at this point that the twelve meet for the first time, and it was at that point that I needed to make a list to keep track of who was who:
The Twelve Detectives
Renato Craig (Argentina)
Caleb Lawson (England)
Tobias Hatter (Germany)
Louis Darbon (France)
Viktor Arzaky (Poland)
Fermín Rojo (Spain)
Jack Novarius (USA)
Anders Castelvetia (Netherlands)
A lot of characters to keep track of, especially when you factor in assistants, associates and all of the others. I suspect “Eight Detectives” would have been plenty – a number of the great detectives have little to do.
At this point things take a different and interesting turn, as we meet the great men, see their rivalries and amd hear their views on the nature of crime and the art of detection.
The plot is suspended for a while, but it soon takes off again. There is a startling murder, a complex investigation, a remarkable solution and a lovely final flourish.
There is a lot going on, but it would be unfair to say more.
The door is left open for a sequel – maybe that is where the more under-used members of “The Twelve” come to the fore.
This was a fast-paced and entertaining tale – at times a little too fast, and maybe a little too much was crammed in.
The plot was clever, though some elements didn’t join up as neatly as they might have.
But overall this is a great debut, and I look forward to reading Pablo De Santis’ next book.
Translated by Mara Lethem