Opening Peter Steiner’s new novel The Capitalist was like visiting an old friend in his quaint
cottage in the Loire — comfortable, relaxed (with a glass of good wine) and confident you’re about to hear a great story.
I came to Peter’s books with The Resistance, when he presented it at the American Library in Paris. His protagonist, Louis Morgon, is a retired (not by choice) CIA spook and sort-of diplomat who settles in the small French town of Saint-Léon-sur-Dême, which, in his depression after being fired and divorced, he chooses in a very simple way: he gets off the plane at De Gaulle airport, hitches up his backpack, and starts walking south. When he gets to a place he likes, he stops and settles in.
In The Resistance he bought a long-abandoned house where he found a stash of World War II pistols used by the Résistance, thus the title. I reviewed that here.
By now Louis is getting older. He’ll never see 70 again, but he’s accumulated a deep network of friends, including the local policeman (Renard) and a lover (Pauline), who play outsized roles in The Capitalist. Over the years in Saint-Léon-sur-Dême he’s become an accomplished painter, a skill that plays an oversized role in the resolution of the story.
Thomas Dunne Books. Available in Kindle ($12.99) or hardcover ($19.84) editions ****
I don’t know Peter Steiner well, in fact hardly at all. I met him that one time in Paris and exchanged emails with him, and he was nice enough to write a blurb for my novel Last Stop: Paris. I do know that he lives part of the year in France, and have to think that informs his descriptions of village life, just as my time in Paris informs my writing.
He’s been in the creative world for a very long time, mainly as an acclaimed cartoonist for The New Yorker, then as novelist. Remember the one from 1993, captioned “On the Internet no one knows you’re a dog?” That was Peter’s, and it’s the most-reproduced cartoon in the magazine’s history.
Morgon’s bête noir is St. John Larrimer — “he pronounced his name SIN-jun in the English manner,” a little touch that tells you everything you need to know — a mini-Madoff who succeeds in fleecing all his money management clients. The most tragic of them is Pauline’s brother Jean-Baptiste, an unaware man who decides it’s easier to send his clients’ money to Larrimer than to manage it himself, so it’s gone. Unfortunately, he told them he was the manager, which turns out to be illegal, and his way out is to slit his wrists.
Pauline, her family and friends are seriously hurt, not least by the money they lost, and Louis is furious. As he has in the past, he determines to do something about it, and he does.
Stick with it through the first couple of chapters, which deal with some of the collateral damage of the excessively enthusiastic capitalism that marked the first few years of the century — it’s what James Michener called “weeding out the ribbon clerks.” Don’t be one of those and you’ll be amply rewarded.
The plot is complicated and tricky, and the best tradition of this kind of novel it’s very hard to tell if the good guys win or lose. I think I know, but I suggest you form your own opinion.
(This review is based on an advance uncorrected proof furnished by the publisher.)
In a city of parks, one that stands out is the cool ribbon of green stretching through three arrondissements on the Right Bank of Paris, the Canal Saint-Martin. It’s also a central element of 19th-century Paris history, and right now it’s getting a facelift.
Go there on any day to find a roiling mix of humanity. It’s home to the homeless, a destination for aspiring musicians, a walkway for lovers, a playground for children. All of it in two long, narrow stretches named the Quai de Valmy and the Quai de Jemmapes. It’s close to the Gare de l’Est, one of the major rail stations, which has a constellation of good restaurants in and around it. The neighborhood had gentrified considerably over the last decade and a half.
I spent considerable time walking around the canal doing research for an important scene in my new novel Last Stop: Paris. In that scene, Eddie Grant goes to a (fictional) street leading off Quai de Jemmapes to enlist the aid of his old friend, the retired general Jeremy Bentham, in finding the antagonist he knows is there but can’t identify. It kicks off the major second-half plot of the book, and Jeremy introduces us to several unsavory veterans of East German intelligence who furnish the information Eddie needs to solve the puzzle.
A Magnet for ‘Stuff’
As you can imagine, any 114-year-old urban waterway picks up a lot of stuff, so once every ten years or so the City of Paris mobilizes, builds a temporary dam at each end, drains the water, and looks to see what treasures have wound up under the water.
Last time, in 2001, the workers dragged away 40 tons of muck and mire, plus some random pieces of gold, bicycles, motorcycles, and the occasional gun. They’ve already found one gun this year, and solved the mystery of where many of the missing Vélib rental bicycles went. They’ve also carried off four and a half tons of fish, from sunfish to 40-pound carp, for release upstream and downstream.
Built by Napoléon I
The first Emperor Napoleon had the canal built in 1802 to provide water for the city, whose residents — or at least the poor ones, which was almost everybody — suffered from a serious water shortage. It connects two rivers, the Ourcq in the north (via the Canal de l’Ourcq) and the Seine in the center of the city. Part of it is underground (there was a risk at one point that the whole thing would be filled and paved over, but good sense prevailed).
It’s now part of the system that furnishes the non-potable water used to clean the streets. For a good explanation of that, see this post from Parisian Fields.
One of the better Paris bloggers working today is Peter Olson, whose blog “Peter’s Paris, Paris as Seen by a Retired Swede,” is full of good pictures of the city, and his post on the canal really shows what the workers are bringing up. I recommend you subscribe if you like Paris pictures, as I do. I look forward to his emails. (While you’re at it, please subscribe to this blog, too, using the signup boxes. We won’t share your email address with anyone.)
The Hotel du Nord is one of the best-known landmarks of the canal because it was the setting for a famous 1938 movie, here on IMDB. There’s a better synopsis on Wikipedia. (The film was shot in a studio, however.)
Last Stop: Paris by John Pearce has been honored as one of six finalists in the 2015 Shelf Unbound Competition for Best Indie Book. Held annually, the competition, hosted by Shelf Unbound magazine, receives about a thousand entries and is, according to publisher Margaret Brown, “a highly competitive field.”
“Last Stop: Paris exemplifies the best of independently published books and we are thrilled to spotlight it and include an interview with John Pearce in the December/January 2016 issue of Shelf Unbound magazine,” says Brown.
John Pearce is a part-time Parisian who lives quite happily most of the the year in Sarasota, Florida. He worked as a journalist in Washington and Europe, where he covered economics for the International Herald Tribune and edited a business magazine. After a business career in Sarasota, he spends his days working on his future books – The new one, Last Stop: Paris, is a 2015 project. It is a sequel to Treasure of Saint-Lazare.
For several months each year, he and his wife Jan live in Paris, walk its streets, and chase down interesting settings for future books and his blog, PartTimeParisian.com. They lived earlier in Frankfurt, Germany, which gave him valuable insights for several of the scenes in Last Stop: Paris.
Thanks to Shelf Unbound for the honor. Last Stop: Paris and its prequel, Treasure of Saint-Lazare, are available in Kindle, paperback and audiobook editions from Amazon.
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.