With Paris in the Dark, Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler returns to his lauded Christopher Marlowe Cobb series and proves once again that he can craft “a ripping good yarn” (Wall Street Journal) with unmistakably literary underpinnings.
Autumn 1915. World War I is raging across Europe but Woodrow Wilson has kept Americans out of the trenches—though that hasn’t stopped young men and women from crossing the Atlantic to volunteer at the front. Christopher “Kit” Cobb, a Chicago reporter with a second job as undercover agent for the U.S. government, is officially in Paris doing a story on American ambulance drivers, but his intelligence handler, James Polk Trask, soon broadens his mission. City-dwelling civilians are meeting death by dynamite in a new string of bombings, and the German-speaking Kit seems just the man to figure out who is behind them—possibly a German operative who has snuck in with the waves of refugees coming in from the provinces and across the border in Belgium. But there are elements in this pursuit that will test Kit Cobb, in all his roles, to the very limits of his principles, wits, and talents for survival.
Fleetly plotted but engaging with political and cultural issues that deeply resonate today, Paris in the Dark is this series’ best novel yet.
From off to the west the air cracked. The sound brass-knuckled us and faded away.
A bomb. Awful big or very near.
All around me the shadows of men had risen up and were retreating into the bar. They had the Zepps in mind. I jumped up too but stepped out onto the pavement of Boulevard Montparnasse.
It wasn’t Zepps. I’d have heard their engines. And the crack and fade were distinctive. Dynamite. This was a hand-delivered explosive. I looked west. Five hundred yards along the boulevard I could make out a billow of smoke glowing piss-yellow in the dark.
I made off in that direction at a swift jog.
My footfalls rang loud. As I neared, there were sounds. Battlefield sounds just after an engagement. The silence of ceased weapon fire filled with the afterclap of moaning, of gasping babble.
The police were wading into the bomb site now. I took a step off the island and onto the cobbles. My foot nudged something and I stopped again. I looked down.
A man’s naked arm, severed at the elbow, its hand with palm turned upward, its fingers splayed in the direction of the café, as if it were the master of ceremonies to this production of the Grand Guignol. Mesdames et messieurs, je vous présente la Grande Guerre. The goddamn Great War.
Paris for Robert Olen Butler and the Christopher Marlowe Cobb series:
“[A] thrilling historical series . . . Butler does a terrific job of depicting both the journalist’s facility for teasing information from his subjects and the spy’s incessant fear of being discovered. There’s something almost magical about the way the author re-creates this 1915 milieu.”—Wall Street Journal, on The Empire of Night
“This high-spirited adventure by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler is an antic concoction of genre clichés, literary sendups, personal homages, fanciful history and passages of great writing.”—New York Times Book Review, on The Hot Country
“[Butler’s] writing is both crisp and thoughtful, his people ring true and he offers an amusing portrait of a golden age in journalism . . . A thinking person’s thriller, the kind of exotic adventure that, in better days, would have been filmed by Sam Peckinpah.”—Washington Post, on The Hot Country
“A cracking good spy thriller, with a cast of memorable characters and a terrifically suspenseful plot that will have you casting the movie as you read. And Butler’s elegant writing elevates the book—he is a master of everything from lyrical description to believable dialogue.”—Tampa Bay Times, on The Empire of Night
“[An] outstanding work of historical fiction.”—Huntington News, on The Star of Istanbul
“A smart and layered yarn . . . propulsive reading . . . Butler has developed a knack for snapping off taut, Hammett-esque sentences at tense moments.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune, on The Empire of Night
“The novel commingles character-driven historical fiction with melodrama and swashbuckling action . . . [Butler] holds the reader transfixed, like a kid at a Saturday matinee.”—Booklist (starred review), on The Star of Istanbul
“Robert Olen Butler is having fun in The Hot Country and readers will too. An intelligent entertainment with colorful history.”—Joseph Kanon, on The Hot Country