Archives For Paris

If you’re a fan of Italy, mysteries, or well-drawn characters, don’t miss David Downie’s new novel Red Riviera. It sits on my virtual bookshelf right next to Commissario Brunetti (Donna Leon) and Inspector Gamache (Louise Penny), paragons of the genre
Like the best of mysteries, Red Riviera has deep roots in the tumultuous past, World War II. The war was not kind to Italy, which had fallen under the spell of a bombastic leader who ended his war shot by partisans, his corpse hung by its heels next to his mistress.
Some of the people and much of the philosophy lived on. This book is the story of a talented police commissioner from Genoa, a woman rising toward the pinnacle of the police establishment at the same time she fears approaching spinsterhood, and her efforts to learn why a retired American spy, a native of Genoa, disappeared at the same time Canadair water bombers were trying to extinguish fires in the forests and brush overlooking the Ligurian Coast.
That’s not the only problem she has. HER vice questor is a couple of notches more diabolical than the one Guido Brunetti must deal with in Venice and he’s not convinced modern Italy is ready for democracy.
Daria Vinci is the headline character but the propulsive force of the story comes from two old men. The first Daria’s godfather Willem Bremach, born to wealth in Genoa, a Spitfire pilot turned Dutch diplomat, cold warrior, and best friend of Daria’s late father, an American.
The other is Joseph Gary, hedonist, former American spy and a man whose past, in Churchill’s words, is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. After a long absence he has returned to the wealthy town of Rapallo, up the Italian Riviera from Genoa. For a couple of guys several years past their ninetieth birthdays they are bursting with energy — physical in Gary’s case, mental in Bremach’s while he is out of action from a tennis injury but not completely idle—watch for it.
I have admired David Downie’s books since I first found them a decade ago for their lively and realistic character development. His previous novel, The Gardener of Eden, was set on a broad stage peopled with varied and captivating characters, also with a historical element. The skill extends to his non-fiction books, of which there have been many. My favorite is Paris, Paris, which I still view as the best guide to Paris I have ever read, and I refer back to it frequently.
Red Riviera is set on the Ligurian Coast of Italy between France and Tuscany, part of which is known to tourists as the Cinque Terre (or “Sink-we Terry,” as Willem Bremach parodies the flocks of anglophone tourists who roost there during the tourist season). Some are barely tolerated guests of his wife in the elegant old house overlooking “the ancient olive trees and blackish-green flame cypresses planted by his grandfather on the terraces below.”
It is from this house that Willem, recovering from a tennis injury and confined to a wheelchair, spots Joseph Gary’s elegant antique speedboat moored in the sea below, as it is every day at the same time. But there’s no Joseph to be found, even after Daria starts her investigation, and it is in unwinding that mystery that Downie skilfully illuminates Italian society, politics, and the dark authoritarian strain that has hidden just below the surface of Italian life and government since Willem’s Spitfire was shot down along the same coastline in 1945.
I first saw Genoa in 2005, at the end of a repositioning cruise from Florida. I saw then, and you will as you read Red Riviera, that it’s a very old place. At one point when Daria is on the lam from police trackers she passes Christopher Columbus’s house—accepted history is that he was born in the area, and as our cruise pulled into the expansive port one of the guides pointed out a building which he said had been Columbus’s workplace before his voyages.
An old Italian city is full of old Italian churches, some better maintained than others but all worth a visit. I will never forget the first day we went church-hopping and it became clear to me where the gold from the New World went. It was on the walls of the churches.
David Downie is a native of San Francisco who now lives in Paris and Italy with his wife Alison Harris, a noted photographer. Together they operate Paris, Paris Tours. My sister and a group of friends visited Paris while we were there a few years ago and she allowed us to tag along on a couple of their tours, which were excellent and filled with Paris history.

Red Riviera, by David Downie. Alan Squire Publishing (June 25, 2021). 300 pages. Amazon editions: Kindle ($9.49), trade paperback ($19.99). (This review is based on a galley proof I received from the publisher. I buy all books I review and have pre-ordered Red Riviera.)
Reviewed on PartTimeParisian.com June 19, 2021

Copyright © 2021 Alesia Press LLC

How I Found Pegasus

John Pearce  —  October 27, 2019

When I started to write my third novel, Finding Pegasus, I was looking for some specific plot points — I wanted a strong woman as at least one of the protagonists, and I wanted her to be a techie, and involved in the plot I had already partially designed, at least mentally.

That plot was: Build a small but very advanced submarine, have some bad guys steal it, combine them with a corrupt Silicon Valley bazillionnaire, a paranoid Navy admiral, the CIA, and Eddie Grant.

Eddie had been so popular among readers of Treasure of Saint-Lazare and its sequel, Last Stop: Paris that he had to feature prominently in the story.

And Paris, of course. Paris is really the center of everything I write.

Kate and Mark: a standout combination

The result was the standout combination of Kate Hall and Mark McGinley. Kate, the former Navy officer who was pushed out of her career by the paranoid admiral, who was also her husband. And Mark, the ex-Navy petty officer who conceived the autonomous sub Pegasus and its tiny drone payload, Icarus.

Kate is, by any standards, a strong protagonist. She’s a naval marine engineer accustomed to rooting around in the engine rooms of nuclear submarines, and she’s a skilled knife fighter who saves her and Mark’s bacon early in the book, when the nasties blow up their sailboat on Biscayne Bay.

Readers have responded to the story. Sales of all three of my books add up to the tens of thousands and lots of nice words. To quote one reviewer, “Finding Pegasus is the story of an international criminal network marching in lockstep with the neo-Nazi autocrats of Eastern Europe; a paranoid, egocentric American Navy admiral; an old and bitter Silicon Valley billionaire; and a retired Hungarian spy who moved to Paris because the food was better.”

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. In fact, I liked Kate so much that she will be a main feature of an upcoming book — not the next one, which will be set in New York (plus Paris, of course) but in the following one, which as of now will be an entirely Paris novel.

Stay tuned. Keep watch on my blog Part-Time Parisian, and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have questions or would like to suggest a plot idea.

You can reach me at jmp@parttimeparisian.com

My novels are available in paperback (regular and large print), Kindle, and audiobook editions. You can see all of them at my Amazon author page.

 

Peter Steiner’s The Good Cop is a pitch-perfect aria in the chaotic opera that was Weimar. It illustrates the corruption of the politicians and police, the violence of the extremist freikorps ruffians, and the general fear and loathing that led to Hitler.

In recent years, Steiner has burnished his reputation as author of the Louis Morgon whodunits, set around a former U.S. CIA agent who moved to rural France after he was cashiered for political reasons. I’m glad to see him branch off into the new Willi Geismeier Mysteries series, which is filled with potential.

The story opens in the trenches of the Western Front as World War I ends and the defeated and depressed German soldiers are sent home, where they will face still more defeat and depression. If you’ve read much of the history of the Weimar Republic you will be familiar with its chaos, including the political assassinations, the corruption, the fear, and the ever-present poverty. All of that is fully represented in Steiner’s book, whose only fault in my eyes is that it is too short.

The new government is weak and useless; leaders change; police and courts are corrupt (nothing like the Third Reich, but corrupt nevertheless). Fascists and Communists alike think they should rule the country. The time is ripe for the Austrian corporal to attempt a putsch in a Munich beer hall.

But instead of winning the government, he gets jail. By then many of the police and other officials have come to believe he may be the wave of the future, so his sentence is shortened, from years to months, but it was still long enough to write Mein Kampf. And when he got out, he was already a legend. There was nowhere to go but up.

Five stars. Highly recommended. My only quibble is its length, 192 pages. I would happily have read another hundred.

Before Peter Steiner started writing novels he was a cartoonist for The New Yorker, well known for a large body of work but perhaps best for the 1993 cartoon showing one dog sitting at a desktop computer, paw on the keyboard, telling another, “On the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog.” It’s a classic. 

He also paints, and had a show in June in Connecticut. In October, he will have a show in the Cartoon Museum in Krems, Austria

The Good Cop (Willi Geismeier Mysteries), by Peter Steiner. Severn House Publishers, July 1, 2019. I read a PDF proof the publisher furnished, then bought and reviewed the Kindle edition.

Useful links:
Peter Steiner’s site
BBC Guide to Weimar

Highly recommended for Francophiles and WWII history buffs
5/5

Anyone who has followed the tragedy of the German occupation has heard of the young bicycle couriers who fearlessly bluffed their way past checkpoints while carrying secret messages for the Resistance. The girls, especially, brought flirtation and coquetry to bear on the Occupation soldiers who were sometimes only a few years older.

Time compresses as it fades. From early in the occupation we remember the couriers and other parts of the soft Resistance. Then came the brave publishers of underground newsletters, then newspapers, and finally the occasional assassination of a German soldier, which always brought heavy penalties. Hitler pushed the occupation forces to more and more intense retribution, so that an assassination brought the execution of 50 hostages — and anyone unlucky enough to be picked up for violating the curfew became a hostage. In 1944 came extensive sabotage in support of D-Day.

Ronald C. Rosbottom’s fascinating new book Sudden Courage follows the deepening involvement of the youth of France after the German invasion of 1940. Rosbottom establishes clearly how betrayed they felt when the pride of the old military establishment, the Maginot Line, proved hopeless as a defense against an invading power with enough creative energy to simply bypass it. One by one, they determined to do their part to reverse the tide.

Preparing for the last war

It was proof of the old aphorism that soldiers prepare for the last war, not the next one, and the feckless French government did exactly that, to the extent of naming the hero of World War I, Petain, to head the new État Français, the collaborationist government the Germans established in Vichy.

When the Germans dissolved Vichy and occupied the south later in the war, the Resistance became more serious there, but the acts that spawned dozens of postwar films — railroads sabotaged, bridges blown up — were mainly acts in cooperation with the Allied governments in preparation for the Normandy landings of 1944.

In any discussion of the Resistance, the elephant in the corner is communism. The Resistance was in many ways started by the communists, who dominated many trade unions and thus could bring their existing organization to bear quickly. They always had a fraught relationship with the government in exile, which like Degaulle himself leaned on the tradition-bound ideas of Old France, which was Catholic, conservative, and patriarchal. In other words, the essence of anti-communism.

In fact, it struck me as odd that so many French parents would tolerate, much less support, their daughters’ work for the Resistance. They were nervous about it, as Rosbottom makes clear, but they saw past the straitjacket of the old mores to the absolute need to combat the Nazi threat to their existence.

Sudden Courage is a masterful followup to When Paris Went Dark. I hope a third one is in the works.

RONALD C. ROSBOTTOM is the Winifred L. Arms Professor in the Arts and Humanities and a professor of French, European Studies, and Architectural Studies at Amherst College. Previously he was the dean of faculty at Amherst. His previous book, When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944, was long listed for the National Book Award in Nonfiction.

SUDDEN COURAGE: Youth in France Confront the Germans, 1940-1945. Custom House, an imprint of William Morrow. Publication Aug. 13, 2019. Available in ebook, hard cover, and audio editions. Buy it on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2KrnLzl

PICTURES of young maquisards and the cover courtesy of the publisher, which provided an advance copy for review. 

Once a month, Adrian Leeds holds a two-hour book presentation and social gathering upstairs at a café near her home in the Marais, in Paris. I went this week because I wanted to hear Timothy J. Smith talk about his new novel The Fourth Courier. I liked what I heard and plan to read the book.

Another reason I went is that I’m the program for next month and wanted to get a feel for the room. I’ll be talking about all three of my current books, Treasure of Saint-Lazare, Last Stop: Paris, and Finding Pegasus, plus the new one that’s in the works right now.

If you’re in Paris on Tuesday, June 11, come by the Café de la Mairie (you’ll find the address on her web site, which you should read anyway. It’s here – click on “things to do.”) It’s all done in English.

Adrian, if by some chance you don’t know about her, is a long-time American leader in Paris real estate and frequently appears on House Hunters International.

The place was packed — I counted 60, not including some who were out of sight around a corner. Here’s a picture I made just to give the flavor. Tim Smith is at the round table listening to a question from the gallery to his left. In the rear, a hand is up for the next question.

This picture shows maybe a third of the crowd, which was jammed into every corner of the old room. It was a lot of fun, and an opportunity to meet kindred spirits.

Tim Smith at Adrian Leeds's Après-Midi May 14 in Paris

Five stars – beautifully written, imaginative, a delight to read

This book will appeal to three kinds of readers: those who admire good writing, those who love baseball and want to see more of it from the inside, and fans of Neil Gaiman.

Arthur Hittner’s two novels, as well as his multiple non-fiction books, encompass two of his main passions: baseball and art. The first, Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse, I reviewed in mid-2018. In pre-retirement life he was a corporate lawyer in Boston but now has time to follow his muse — much like Singer, his four-fingered lefty. The shortage of one finger on his pitching hand is a big part of the story.

His non-fiction has covered baseball (Honus Wagner), art (Harold J. Rabinovitz, the model for his first novel), and cross-country travel, which he does frequently between his two bases in Massachusetts and Arizona.

Jake Singer is a lawyer in Cambridge having a drink or three with his buddies when he meets Kate, “A little wisp of a girl in a starched white blouse and a short black skirt,” who arrived to take his order. In one short paragraph he sums up her first day on the job and a page or two later — goaded by his drinking buddies — he’s asked her out. He starts out, as he narrates in one of the alternating first-person chapters, looking like a clerk in a Brooks Brothers store but Kate redirects him toward his more casual side. Along the way she rekindles his interest the promising baseball career that fizzled with the loss of his finger.

They marry, try and fail to conceive, which brings serious strains between them, and Kate dies, victim of a hit-and-run just at the time she’s preparing to leave him. Except that she doesn’t really leave, and it’s her role as the late wife that guides him to a reinvigorated if short baseball career.

This is the part that reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s 2001 opus American Gods. In that classic work the protagonist Shadow is released from prison a few days early because Laura, the wife he’s spent his entire sentence anticipating, is killed in an auto accident. Except that she, like Kate, hangs around, much to Shadow’s benefit.

Hittner is a good writer, so I expected an easy-to-read novel. But I was surprised at the pure skill displayed in the first chapter. Read it and you’ll read the rest.

Four-Finger Singer and His Late Wife, Kate: A Novel of Life, Death & Baseball. Arthur D. Hittner. Apple Ridge Press, Oro Valley, AZ, May 15, 2019. $6.99 Kindle, $16.95 paperback (Amazon Prime). I read an advance PDF and have ordered the Kindle edition.

My review of his first novel is here

Anyone who has lived in a small town may have seen Carverville, Downie’s fictional Cannery Row, which is now an economic desert whose salmon fishery and lumber industries were sacrificed to clearcutting and environmental plunder.

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My most indelible memory of the holiday we Americans call Veterans Day happened 46 years ago when Jan and I passed through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin. We were journalists in Frankfurt at the time but had business in Berlin and decided to take in the sights on Saturday, Nov. 11, 1972.

This was eleven years after the Berlin wall. Checkpoint Charlie wasn’t much more than a shed in the middle of the road, with a prominent sign to the side that warned you were leaving the American sector of Berlin.

Across the border in East Berlin, however, security was a different story. There was a building much like passport control at the airports of the day — a narrow corridor you had to pass, with scowling immigration officers along the way. Think back to one of its earliest film depictions, in The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.

It was there that we had the experience that made Veterans Day stand out. A young VoPo (for Volkspolizei) officer with bad dental work was asking all the Americans who came through about the holiday they were observing that day. He was suspicious that it was a triumphal World War II victory celebration, but he spoke no English and the people he’d asked spoke no German, so he’d learned nothing.

His attitude softened considerably when we explained that it was a holiday in honor of all American military veterans. That made him smile but didn’t stop him from rifling my wallet in search of contraband.

If we hadn’t been alert he might have found some. A friend who lived in our apartment building in Frankfurt had family in East Berlin and asked us to take them some West German marks, if we could do it safely. But whatever you do, she warned, memorize the name and address. Don’t carry it through the checkpoint. It was good advice.

There’s a sidelight to the story. Our landlady in Frankfurt, who did a thriving business renting apartments to Americans, was Frau Wetzmuller,  a name you’ll recognize if you read Treasure of Saint-Lazare closely.

The unmissable warning at Checkpoint Charlie.

For the last few months I’ve been casting about for some way to answer the question I’ve heard from a dozen or so readers of the Eddie Grant Series. “Where did the idea for Treasure of Saint-Lazare come from?”

I put off creating this post until Finding Pegasus was published, but now that it’s selling well I thought I’d try to answer the question in several ways.

First, some time ago I wrote a short story about Eddie Grant’s early years, especially the four years he spent as a college student in Texas before going into the US Army, like his father and grandfather before him.

Second, I wrote a blog post covering the background of the entire series.

Third, I’ve published them together as one short story, Lauren, which I’m offering as a free introduction on Amazon. (You can find the other books here.)

Simply click this link to start the process of downloading Lauren. I hope you enjoy it.

(A note: Amazon has been a little slow setting the price to free for its customers outside the United States. Go ahead and try, but if the book page asks for money, just cancel out and email me. I’ll send you the Kindle file by return email.

(If you received this message directly you’re already a subscriber to the mailing list, so you can ignore that part of the signup sheet, but you do need to enter your email address to receive the book.)

Thanks for your support

John Pearce

Nov. 4, 2018

THE PARIS MÉTRO map changed countless times since the first line opened in 1900. The current version, highly stylized, has been around so long it seems like the new normal, but its days are limited — the métro authority is about to introduce a new edition. If you’re a tenderfoot trying to go from Point 1 to Point 2 and your route involves train changes, this will help.

It’s one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” brainstorms. Guillaume Martinelli, a consultant in transit planning, proposed adding a small number between the stations to show the walking time, in minutes.

There are several smartphone apps for navigating the métro system, of which the best (IMHO) is the genuine one produced by RATP, the transit authority. But for those who remain attached to their paper maps, Martinelli’s revision looks like a winner.

(H/T Paris ZigZag – www.pariszigzag.fr)