If you had one chance to go back in time and change history for the better, where would you go, and when? Hardly anyone would argue with Sarajevo 1914, when the Austrian archduke was murdered by a semi-competent Serbian anarchist, thus starting the fall of dominoes that led to World War I and, by extension, World War II and the political and military turmoil that followed. The smoke didn’t really blow away until after Korea, and the Cold War lingered until 1989. An entire century wasted.
Ben Elton’s Time and Time Again is an elegant and detailed imagination of what might have happened if a secret society of British academics, following a formula discovered by Sir Isaac Newton, had sent a cashiered Army captain back to stop the assassination.
As you can imagine, things didn’t turn out as planned. Captain Hugh Stanton, a competent man in his own world (of British Special Forces and reality TV) is far out of his depth 110 years before his own time, and he’s at the mercy of forces neither he, the ancient and berobed members of the secret society, or Sir Isaac could have predicted. Elton has created a maze of switchbacks and false leads that makes for fun reading, especially if you understand something of the history of Germany as the Great War began, and the life of Rosa Luxembourg.
It’s no spoiler to say he does in fact go back to 1914 (that’s in Chapter 2) and he does in fact foil the assassination. It would be a spoiler to tell what happens after that, except that he meets some interesting people and falls into a little mid-century romance with a young suffragette living ahead of her time. It’s the twists and turns after he’s done his job, and discovered to his chagrin that the unintended consequences were serious indeed, that make the book so interesting a read.
Ben Elton is an Australian writer who’s immensely popular in the U.K., but not known so well in the United States. He’s written fourteen best-sellers, including some that were made into movies, and has several TV scripts to his credit. His books are well rated on Amazon, and I plan to read more of them. I suggest you do so as well, and start with this one.
(I read the hardback British version furnished by the publisher, which was published last year.)
Time and Time Again, by Ben Elton. Publication Dec. 22, 2015. From Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St. Martin’s Press. Hardback, $26.99 (Amazon, $15.14), Kindle $12.99. Ranked #26 in time travel science fiction on publication date.
Thanks to Harriet Welty Rochefort for her gracious review of Last Stop: Paris. She called it “an international thriller that’s got everything : a mystery and a love story with as its backdrop Paris, Miami, Bulgaria, Frankfurt and other points in Europe and the U.S.”
Most American lovers of Paris know Harriet as one of the foremost interpreters of Parisian (and French) life to those of us on the other side of the Atlantic. She’s lived there for forty years and is the author of a series of fascinating and insightful books on what makes Americans and the French so different. And, make no mistake about it, we are different. Even those of us who’ve spent enough time there to be familiar with France are frequently baffled by the habits and folkways. (For example, don’t even think of going into a Parisian shop without saying “Bonjour” first.)
Here’s her review, in full:
“Here’s an international thriller that’s got everything : a mystery and a love story with as its backdrop Paris, Miami, Bulgaria, Frankfurt and other points in Europe and the U.S. Last Stop : Paris is the sequel to Treasure of Saint-Lazare, the best-selling historical mystery of 2014 in which the protagonist, French-American Eddie Grant, searches for an Old Master painting which has gone missing since the end of World War II. In Last Stop : Paris Eddie, who combines European savvy and smarts with American pragmatism and a « can-do » spirit, embarks on a dangerous pursuit of the criminals who who killed his family ten years earlier. Pearce, a former journalist, is a master at describing place and as an American who has lived in France for decades, I salute him for his accurate and colorful descriptions of places in Paris tourists know as well as ones they may not. I also salute him for his obvious knowledge, not only of places in Paris, but of the Parisians, the way they look and the way they speak. This is the real thing. Just one thing : Be careful not to start it if you’ve got other things to do : you won’t be able to put it down.”
See her books on her Amazon author page. Joie de Vivre is on my review list, so you should see it here soon.
The audio version of Last Stop: Paris went live on Amazon tonight, and you can see it here. The suite of editions is now complete — paperback, Kindle and audiobook. I’ll have more to say about it in the next few days.
If you’re a reviewer of audio books, I have a few Audible.com codes to distribute. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested, and thanks in advance.
Tuesday is launch day for Last Stop: Paris, the sequel to Treasure of Saint-Lazare. Both the Kindle and paperback versions will be on sale, and the audio book will follow within days, or as soon as Audible.com and Amazon approve the outstanding narration Dan Gallagher did.
I invite you to download and read the book and post an Amazon review. You can find the book at this link.
If you receive a review copy, just note that there are a few editorial changes, and I’ve added a map showing the sites of the action across Europe, from Paris to Miami to the Black Sea, plus a page of blurbs.
The price will stay at $2.99 for two or three weeks as reviews come in, then rise. If you haven’t read it, or would like the final version, now’s the time (early reviewers will receive signed copies of the paperback as a memento).
Kirkus Reviews gave my novel a very positive review, which I hope everyone reads. You’ll find it at this link.
Kirkus Says —
“A full-throttle adventure through modern Europe and the Mediterranean in a book that’s part thriller, part mystery, and all rollicking ride… An exhilarating journey that will satisfy the most avid thriller reader.” Kirkus Reviews
Tuesday, Dec. 1, is publication day for Last Stop: Paris, he sequel to my novel Treasure of Saint-Lazare.
It will be available on or before that day in paperback, Kindle, and audio book editions. There’s a chance the paperback will be available a little sooner.
(You can pre-order the Kindle version on Amazon right now, for delivery Dec. 1. It’s at this link.)
Right now I’m working closely with Dan Gallagher, the experienced narrator who’s about a third through the narration process. He records it a chapter at a time and sends the audio file to me for review. Dan has been doing this a long time, so the number of corrections is very small.
Jane Dixon-Smith has finished the covers for all three editions. The printer is working to get the paperbacks ready. I expect proofs from the main printer, LightningSource, tomorrow.
I can’t think of any other way to say it: Kirkus Reviews LOVED my new novel Last Stop: Paris. Said the sage of book reviews, it is “An exhilarating journey that will satisfy the most avid thriller reader.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
You can see the entire review on Kirkus’s own site, or look at the full info sheet for the book, which includes several other pre-reviews, by clicking on the image below.Last Stop: Paris will be available for pre-order on Amazon within a few days, and will go on formal sale Dec. 1.
There’s still time to prepare your own review before the sale begins, if you’re so inclined. Email me (email@example.com) for a link to download a review copy. Include your mailing address if you’d prefer a paperback.
David Downie’s A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light is one of the best books about Paris published this year, in my humble opinion. It may be the best. David will talk about it and Romantic Paris next week at the American Library in Paris and, if you’re in the city on Oct. 7, you should go hear him. Don’t miss it.
I reviewed the book last May on this blog, and nothing I’ve seen since has changed my mind. Read the book.
It focuses on the period when Paris developed into the city we Americans think of as truly Paris — the nineteenth century from Victor Hugo onward. That was the Romantic period, and romantic it truly was.
Downie’s knowledge of the city is encyclopedic, as you’d expect from someone who’s lived in and written about it for decades. He and his wife Alison Harris, an outstanding photographer who contributes to his work as well as having her own practice, also offer walking tours of the city, which I’ve taken. They are excellent. Take a look at his site.
The highlight of our two-month stay in Paris this summer, hands down, was the day and a half Jan and I spent as extras for a film being made for the Paris Opera Ballet.
We had short roles but fairly prominent ones — we’re the first people you see when La Grande Sortie (“The Grand Exit”) opens, two Americans arguing gently about why they’re late as they run up to a queue of well-dressed Parisians waiting to enter the theater.
The 10-minute film was written and directed by Los Angeles photographer and filmmaker Alex Prager, who is increasingly well known in the theater world, both as a still photographer and as a director of short films centered on the world of entertainment.
La Grande Sortie is one of the first works to be included in the Paris Opera’s “3e scène” (“3rd Stage”), the digital extension of the opera ballet championed by the choreographer and director of the Paris Opera Ballet, Benjamin Millepied. Born in Bordeaux, raised in Senegal, he is best known in the United States as a former principal dancer for the New York City Ballet and the husband of actress Natalie Portman. (We saw an HD video of his Daphnis et Chloë, music by Ravel, at the Sarasota Opera a couple of weeks ago and thought it was magnificent. It was recorded before he became head of the ballet in 2013.)
If you are seriously interested in music and the arts, as we are, the opportunity to spend a day on and around the main stage of the Opéra Bastille made the time and effort worthwhile. It’s a huge rush to be inside the magnificent 2,700-seat hall when there’s no performance going on — just dozens of costume assistants, staff, electricians and other backstage folk, plus some very complicated camera setups — the nuts and bolts which, put together in just the right configuration, make up the pinnacle of international ballet and opera.
What’s a figurant?
We were among 72 figurants, as extras are known in French, and among five who received special mention in the titles because we had speaking roles. (See the slide headed “Avec” (“With”) near the end of the film.)
The film was shot over three days but we were involved in only one, Sunday, June 20, when the audience and exterior shots were filmed. The day before, we were called to a studio near the opera for costume selection, which went smoothly and took most of the afternoon. It left just enough time for a nice dinner in Le Café Bastille, a bistro around the corner from the opera.
Sunday started very early. Uber picked us up at our apartment in Montparnasse at 5 a.m. and delivered us back there fourteen hours later.
First stop when we arrived was the large ballet practice studio on the eighth floor above the main stage of Opéra Bastille, where the costumes and makeup stations had been installed. If you know us and watch the film, you’ll see some significant changes wrought by the costume and makeup departments — I don’t wear caps except when I go out for my morning walk in Sarasota, and Jan doesn’t have a blonde bouffant hairdo. Or that dress. Or those plastic pearls. The shirt definitely belonged to someone else.
Our role was to act like Americans who don’t quite grasp French culture — that will be clear when you watch it.
The film opens with a slow Steadicam pan down the July Column in the center of the Place de la Bastille, and then we come into view, panting our way toward the end of the entrance line, arguing over why we’re late. The delay had something to do with the fact that Paris restaurants don’t offer free iced-tea refills (which is true, as far as it goes, but in fact they rarely even offer iced tea).
The contrast of this American in his red plaid shirt and ball cap with the well-turned-out Parisian crowd is striking. There’s some stereotyping going on, but not a lot.
Arty alert: This is a movie about an étoile ballerina’s career collapsing during the course of a single performance. It’s avant-garde, not traditional, but the music is luscious. Stick with it and it will repay your effort.
Ten takes and a half-dozen dialogue changes later our speaking part was done, and it was hardly 7 o’clock.
Then it was back inside for costume changes on the main stage (where the costume racks had been moved), and audience shots. The rest of the day was spent moving around in the seats so Alex could create the audience views she needed, plus the final scene showing the étoile (the star dancer) leaving the theater. We had changed costumes three times and had a classic movie-set lunch under a tent set up in the catering area.
As opera spectators, we see only the seats, the pit and the visible parts of the stage — not the warren of hidden passages within the walls and behind the stage or the large wings on each side of the stage. It is immense, and impressive.
While I still prefer the old opera house, Palais Garnier, the new one (inaugurated 1989) is fast on its way to being my favorite.
Here’s my quick video overview of what it looked like toward the end of the day on the stage:
How we got the gig
How we were chosen for the job is almost Lana Turner-ish.
When we’re in Paris we normally take French lessons at Lutèce Langues, a school not far from the Seine and Place du Châtelet, on the Right Bank. The school breaks for 15 minutes between the first 90-minute session and the second, and during that time we rush downstairs
to one of our favorite bistros, Au P’tit Boulevard, for coffee. Over time, we made friends with the manager, Alex (another Alex, no relation to the director that we know of).
And then one morning Alex the manager came to the school looking for us. His friend Nicolas Lublin of Slowdance Productions was seeking two middle-aged Americans to cast in the upcoming movie. We did a short interview on the street, then later his assistant Anton Lombard came to our apartment and did a video interview, which he sent to Alex the director. She either liked what she saw or didn’t have time to look further, and we were hired.
She and her staff were a pleasure to work with — very professional and efficient.
We were a little surprised to learn we would be paid, and not badly. Some of the other figurants told us they get fairly steady work because of the tremendous amount of movie-making done in Paris. If you stay there any length of time at all you’ll find your sidewalk blocked by a movie crew.
My photos below tell the rest of the story. If you want to see more backstage pictures at Opéra Bastille, go to my Google Photos folder online (unedited).
WQXR’s Operavore tells about 3e Scène, with links to several of the short films, including ours.
Last Stop: Paris, the sequel to Treasure of Saint-Lazare, will be published on Dec. 1. Review copies are available. If you would like to review one or both of the books, please email my publisher, including a link to any previous novel review you’ve published. To get the flavor of my first novel, look at it on Amazon. It was picked as the top historical mystery of 2014 by Readers’ Favorite, the big review site, and reached #39 on the all-Kindle best-seller list.
All photos taken with the iPhone 6 using the Camera+ app.
My first novel has a complete new look — a new cover, and a polished new text.
English artist Jane Dixon-Smith of JD Smith Design created the new cover. It again features the Eiffel Tower, but in color, and in a more somber photo than the first edition cover.
Jane also designed the cover of my next novel, Last Stop: Paris, which will be published in a couple of months. I wanted the cover of Treasure to be similar in spirit to the new one, which I’ll show you in a day or two, after the paperback proofs arrive from the printer.
A Complimentary Blurb
Treasure’s new cover also includes a complimentary blurb from Ronald C. Rosbottom, author of When Paris Went Dark, which is a finalist for the American Library in Paris 2015 book award. It’s a fascinating book for those who love Paris or want to know about the German Occupation during World War II, and I highly recommend it.
I have also lightly edited the text but made no major changes to plot or characters.
The new edition is available in the Amazon Kindle store today, and will replace the paperback first edition in about two weeks.
I was walking through Place Dauphine on Île de la Cité when a bookstore display caught my eye — it was this book of “stupefying but true” prisoners’ last words before they ascended the steps of the “national razor.”
Its title is “Shortcuts,” which is witty enough, but it’s the last little lagniappe that makes it really humorous. The book is shaped like a guillotine blade, its bottom edge cut at an angle like the edge Dr. Guillotin designed just before the French Revolution to make death as quick and painless as possible.
Some bons mots from the book, relayed from its review in Le Monde last April (translation errors are mine):
“Voilà une semaine qui commence mal.” (This is a week that’s starting off badly.) Olympe de Gouges, woman of letters, feminist, executed on Nov. 3, 1793 — a Monday.
“C’est mauvais pour la santé.” (It’s bad for the health.) Henri Landru, a serial killer executed in 1922, when he was offered a cigarette and a glass of rum just before the blade descended.
“Au revoir, monsieur, et bonne continuation !” (Goodbye, and enjoy the rest of my book.) The Marquis de Charost, executed in 1793 at the age of 23. He read a book in the tumbrel on his way to the guillotine and, when he arrived, carefully turned down the page and handed it to a guard.
“Si ça peut faire plaisir au curé.” (If that would please the priest.) Antoine Martin, who killed his brother, politely accepting the last rites.
The last person was guillotined in France on 10 September 1977. Capital punishment was abolished in 1981.
Paris in July is normally a comfortable place to be, with high temperatures around 70 degrees, sunny days, and an occasional rain shower in the afternoon – which is why many people carry tiny umbrellas all the time.
But in recent years there have been all-too-frequent exceptions, with potentially fatal consequences in a country that doesn’t use much air conditioning. This year we’re experiencing a particularly nasty heat wave, or canicule, that pushed the daily high to 103 earlier this week. Today it’s milder — only 92 — and should cool down over the next few days, especially if we get the rain that’s forecast for tomorrow.
The New York Times’s Timothy Egan wrote this week of the unusual weather in his city. In a piece headlined “Seattle on the Mediterranean,” he points out that Seattle is farther north than Maine or Montreal, and had eight days of 85 degree highs or more last month. Last weekend, Walla Walla hit 113 degrees.
Paris, at 49 degrees north latitude, is even further north than Seattle, and the weather’s been warmer.
France’s government, led by the activist city government of Paris, has substantially beefed up its efforts to protect the people most likely to be affected by the canicule. Those are mainly young children, the elderly, the handicapped, and others that for one reason or another feel most threatened. A lack of adequate support contributed to the deaths of 15,000 people in the last major heat wave, in 2003.
This year, Paris has entire battery of measures in force. They include:
– A daily phone call to people enrolled in its Chalex register, a voluntary list of people whose health could be threatened by the heat. If the city’s callers find a problem, they dispatch a social worker and a volunteer physician.
– Cooler refuges are opened at the times of highest heat.
– Reminders are posted everywhere to stay inside, out of the sun, and protect yourself. Employers are urged to reschedule their outdoor workers to keep them out of the worst heat.
– 1,200 water fountain are available around the city, and a map is available on the excellent municipal web site, Paris.fr.
– 5,000 containers of water were furnished to the homeless, along with maps directing them to the nearest fountain.