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Picking Through the Bones
on 23 February 2015
In real terms, five years have passed since Laurie R. King opened the Harris Stuyvesant series with "Touchstone", during which time she has mostly been working on her Mary Russell series. However, she has now returned to Harris Stuyvesant and the five year gap between that novel and this, ''The Bones of Paris'', has made quite a difference.
It is 1929 and Harris Stuyvesant has now left the Bureau of Investigation and England behind him and is working as a Private Investigator in Europe. An American, who Stuyvesant had met, has gone missing and Stuyvesant is approached by her Uncle and her Mother to find her. The missing girl, Pip Crosby, was involved with a group of artists in the Montparnasse and Montmartre areas of the city. Many of them seem to have known her, but few have seen her in some time.
Stuyvesant's investigations are hampered by the sudden reappearance into his life of Sarah Grey, a woman who Stuyvesant has been pining for ever since the events of ''Touchstone'', but who is now working for one of Stuyvesant's main suspects and engaged to another man, who happens to be heading up the Missing Persons department of the Paris Police. As one of Stuyvesant's friends is murdered, another goes missing, and he gets mixed signals from Pip's former flat mate, it is no wonder he can't keep his fists under control, which lands him in more trouble.
I found the pacing of the book much improved from ''Touchstone'', as the scope of the novel was much smaller and the word of artists and actors was much faster moving than the world of politics depicted in the previous novel. There was far less time spent on back story and background, which also helped as it meant that virtually every event depicted here was helping the plot move along, even if the plot was moving Stuyvesant round in circles some of the time.
The story was an interesting one as well, with a number of dark and macabre ideas that author as well as characters seemed to revel in. For readers of a more nervous disposition, some of the descriptions may leave them with a slight unease, but as a horror fan, I quite enjoyed them. These sections and those in the carefree bars and restaurants of Paris had a looseness and a party feel that was almost entirely missing from ''Touchstone'', where even a simple luncheon was often politically charged. The story as a whole broke free of the shackles of the previous book and was much the better for it.
In her first book in the series, King's imagination shone through and that is definitely the case here. She mixes historical characters with a heavy dose of intrigue and for those like me with little knowledge of art or history, it's often difficult to tell how much fact and how much fiction is in play at any given moment. Not that I was particularly bothered by that, as whichever I was reading was thoroughly enjoyable.
Perhaps the only let down was that many of the crime thriller clichés seemed to be present here. Stuyvesant being down on his luck and having turned to drink and meaningless sexual encounters to get over a former love, only for that love to suddenly reappear in his life was nothing new. Whilst the reveal was interesting, the manner of it, with suspect and potential victim having a long conversation before events take their expected turn was also disappointing in its use. An old friend becoming suddenly involved, yet pivotal, the Private Investigator being accused at one point and a relationship with a close friend of his subject have all been seen before.
I much preferred ''The Bones of Paris'' to its predecessor, as the pacing was much better and the macabre feel appealed to me. But despite being very readable and having great imagination on display, the use of so many of the genre clichés made it feel desperately formulaic in parts, which was a bit of a letdown, but I figure I can afford the odd minor letdown here and there.
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