...and not stopping a third of the way through it, at which point the graceless, clumsy writing and two-dimensional characters were wearing on me. But the two stars are for Charles Belfoure's ability to plot. The book is a page-turner, no doubt about it. Once I had started reading, I had to find out how it ended. That doesn't mean that I found the ending--particularly the main character's revelation about his own motives--completely unbelievable.
But beyond the plot, there is nothing here. The characters are cardboard cutouts--especially, but not solely, the women. You have your gorgeous, ambitious slut who will do anything to save her business; your gorgeous former slut with a heart of gold, whose entrance into a factory causes every single one of the 200+ men who work there to stop working simultaneously (Come on...); the brilliant microbiologist for whom "being a mother would always trump her career;" and assorted slatterns and ugly charwomen. You have your good Nazi and your typical Gestapo guy who laughs helplessly as a man is brutally tortured in front of him. The writing is sloppy and reflects the now common lack of editing and proofreading that infects virtually all books; in one paragraph, "Lucien, the atheist didn't want any religious horse s***," and in the very next paragraph, he thinks, "His father was probably looking up at him from Hell." And wouldn't you think that an architect would know that the thing over a fireplace is a mantel, not a mantle?
At one point, Lucien, the main character and the Paris architect, suddenly longs to become a father. Out of the blue. With no background to support what becomes a major factor in the plot and that rings as false as a cracked bell.
Mr. Belfoure, an architect himself, is the subject of one of those author interviews at the back of the book, and he describes his reason for wanting to write this book this way: "Once I had some nonfiction experience under my belt, I thought I'd try fiction." Kind of like my saying, "Once I'd learned to drive a car, I thought I'd try the Indy 500." There's more to good writing than getting some newspaper articles under your belt. One of them should be voracious reading, but when asked who his favorite fiction writers are, he can name only one--Anne Tyler, because both she and Belfoure are from Baltimore.
If you want to read a beautifully written and realized novel about Paris during the Nazi occupation, read Alan Furst's beautiful The World at Night. One reviewer inexplicably compared Belfoure to Furst, a slap in the face to an actual writer, someone who has practiced and learned how to take the turns at 200 mph. Mr. Belfoure is still in the scooter stage.