The Disappearance at Père-Lachaise Review
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Not long ago, on the other side of the world, geologist Armand de Valois died of yellow fever—and, ever since, his widow, Odette, has claimed to be communicating with him through a gifted medium. While visiting Armand’s tomb in Paris’s Père-Lachaise cemetery one night, Odette disappears. Her timid young maid, Denise, rushes home, hoping that her mistress has simply wandered off. But when she’s awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of an intruder in the flat, Denise begins to worry.

Alone in the city, Denise goes to the only person she knows: Odette’s former lover, Victor Legris. A bookseller and sometimes sleuth, Victor agrees to help the frightened maid find Odette—but it seems that she’s nowhere to be found. When Denise goes missing, too, Victor and his assistant Joseph find themselves in the center of a deadly mystery.

The Disappearance at Père-Lachaise takes readers on a leisurely stroll through 1890 Paris. Author Claude Izner (which is actually the pen name for sisters Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefevre) paints a striking (and wonderfully detailed) picture of a fascinating time in Parisian history—a time known for its art, fashion, philosophy…and mediums. That last aspect, of course, sets the stage for a haunting mystery—which begins in an equally dark and haunting setting.

Still, even more than its setting, it’s the unusual cast of characters that sets Père-Lachaise apart. Each one of the main characters adds something unexpected to the story. Bookstore owner Victor offers a look at literature and bookselling in the 19th century, while his immigrant/artist girlfriend, Tasha, takes readers to the artists’ studios and dingy basement galleries. Meanwhile, shop boy Joseph uses his love of mysteries to delve into the case (even when he’s told to stay out of it)—and Victor’s long-time friend, Kenji Mori, looks on in grim disapproval. Though the main characters aren’t developed as well as I would have liked (especially Kenji, who’s absent for most of the book), they’re fascinating nonetheless—and I’d love to spend more time getting to know them.

At the same time, though, the book’s greatest strength is also one of its greatest weaknesses. The characters may be fascinating—and surprising—but there are so many of them that it’s often difficult to keep track of them all. There are all kinds of shop keepers, concierges, mediums, and other acquaintances who keep popping in and out of the story. The massive cast of supporting characters makes the story more complicated than the usual cozy mystery. And when it all comes to its (rather anticlimactic) end, it might just leave you feeling a bit bewildered.

So, because of its puzzling mystery and its overwhelming number of minor characters, The Disappearance at Père-Lachaise isn’t the most satisfying read. But if you’re enchanted by the City of Lights, you’ll still find plenty here to hold your attention.

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