Paris in the Dark by Robert Olen Butler #BookReview #BlogTour

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.

It's my pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for Paris in the Dark by Robert Olen Butler today. My grateful thanks to the author, No Exit Press and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.

The title of this wartime espionage drama is aptly chosen although it is not just Paris in the dark with the theme of not knowing, whether through concealment or ignorance a thread that runs throughout the book. It is Autumn 1915 and though the First World War is slaughtering young men in their droves, the heavily censored news reports mean that the general population is being kept in the dark about what is really happening just forty miles from the cafes, bars and restaurants of  Paris. Christopher Marlowe 'Kit' Cobb is a frustrated news reporter who has at least secured clearance to write a story on the American volunteers who drive ambulances to and from the Western Front. America is still officially neutral but Kit's cynical disdain for Woodrow Wilson means he is hopeful that his feature may secure him a visit to the Front in order to galvanise the American public into demanding the President finally decides to commit US troops to join the fighting.
He meets Supervising Nurse, Louise Pickering who applies lilac water each morning as a mask against the smells of wounds and death which will infiltrate her day, and then three young ambulance drivers; John Barrington Lacey, Cyrus Parsons and Jefferson Jones whose hesitations and silences are perhaps just as telling as the reasons they give for coming to France. Kit's other role as an undercover agent soon gives him more to investigate as a series of bombings in Paris suggest German refugees may have infiltrated the city to carry out a wave of terror attacks. The atmospheric setting of the novel weaves itself through the pages giving a Noirish cinematic feel to the story as Kit desperately pursues the bomber. As the book progresses, he discovers the perpetrator is motivated not by war but by ideologies which Kit realises he has some sympathies for. His determination doesn't falter but the case exerts a heavy toll on him.
The true horrors of the war are not written about in visceral detail here and yet the grim effect of the ceaseless butchery on those who witness it is abundantly clear. Kit's relationship with Louise is a poignant beacon of fragile hope among two people who have seen too much but his clandestine mission means that he must conceal his true identity from her. Forced to play his part in an investigation which becomes as much about politically motivated deflections as it is about saving lives, Kit is a complex and conflicted character whose hard-won experiences can't stop him becoming tormented by his inner voice doubting who the real Kit Cobb is. It's perhaps not surprising that he should question his identity as he is the son of an actress who spent his formative years backstage watching others disguise their true selves to play their on-stage personas and it's only as the novel reaches its tense conclusion when he finally realises what his role here really is.
Paris in the Dark is an evocatively written, intriguing tale which balances a nail-biting race against time to stop another bombing with a thoughtful exploration of the psychological effects of living a dual existence. This sophisticated and accomplished thriller is the first book I have read by Robert Olen Butler but now I've been introduced, I'm looking forward to reading more.

Paris in the Dark is published by No Exit Press and can be purchased here.

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About the Author
ROBERT OLEN BUTLER is one of America’s most highly regarded writers, having published 17 novels, 6 short story collections, and a book on the creative process. Among his numerous awards is the Pulitzer Prize which he won for A Good Scent for a Strange Mountain. Four of his novels are historical espionage thrillers in the Christopher Marlowe Cobb series, a character far closer to Robert than any other he has written. Like ‘Kit’ Cobb, Robert also went to war, was part of the military intelligence and a reporter and editor at an investigative business newspaper. Robert is also a widely admired and sought after university teacher of creative writing and counts among his former students another Pulitzer Prize winner.

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  1. Thanks so much for supporting the Blog Tour Karen x


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