Murder on the Eiffel Tower is touted as an international best seller on its cover and the author, Claude Izner, is revealed on the back flap to be two sisters named Liliane and Laurence who are scholars of nineteenth-century Paris and second-hand booksellers on the Left Bank. I settled in for a good old-fashioned read but quickly discovered that the book is as odd and arcane as the byways of Paris might have been at the end of the nineteenth century.
The mystery opens with a preface that describes a murder, linked to Buffalo Bill and a troupe of performers arriving at Les Batignolles train station. The attraction for a ragged bunch of urchins and a motley crowd seems to be the chance to see live American Redskins—not the sports team. It’s a very unusual murder that will soon be followed by more with the same signature. But no one actually spots or links this murder of a poor man to the others that roll out about a month or so later. The Buffalo Bill sideshow is really a sideshow–not central to the plot.
Then we move to Chapter One and some detail about a nanny and three difficult children at the grand opening of the Eiffel Tower. It’s not giving away much to say that the nanny dies. She’s more of a plot point than a person, although her early and well-chronicled entry into the story makes her seem noteworthy at first.
Here’s where I started to lose it and never quite regained a connection with the narrative. The protagonist is not clearly singled out for a while but the cast of characters grows by leaps and bounds. A shocking collapse and death happens in plain view on the tower and it is blamed on a bee sting, however improbable that might seem. A start-up tabloid, staging a launch event on the tower, begins to sensationalize the weird death as a murder.
Soon murders and characters who behave in extremely untypical and arbitrary fashion multiply and a young bookseller falls in lust at first sight with a newspaper artist. For no apparent reason, the bookseller begins to investigate the bee sting deaths as if they are homicides. He also ties them to everyone he knows most intimately, including his selfless surrogate father and the object of his sudden affection, whom he would like to know more intimately. There are tons of tidbits about peculiarities of the time that might be clues, or not.
Maybe the translation misrepresented the original or maybe suspicions, actions and chance encounters with little ground, motivation or foreshadowing are the style of the authors. The illogical behavior of the characters jarred me out of the story frequently as did repeated clunky bits of exposition. It all wrapped up very neatly in the end but I wasn’t invested in the characters and wasn’t impressed with the puzzle and its resolution. It seemed flimsy and fixed and key motives arrived out of the blue at the denouement. Even the authors’ nom de plume and its explanation seemed like a ruse to cover another identity. I did look up Claude Izner and the team has produced a number of nineteenth-century mysteries, at least 10 starring the Eiffel Tower protagonist.
Disappointing. It’s hard to find good mystery series and the historical setting of this one promised an adventure. Didn’t happen for me. The whole thing was too shallow and difficult to keep track of. When I have to work at a book, I want it to be material I decide to master—like particle physics or the evolution of the dynasties of China. Mysteries are for pleasure and escape, like Paris. Murder on the Eiffel Tower failed to transport me to a Paris I could happily get lost in so I probably won’t take Claude Izner’s tour again.
Murder on the Eiffel Tower: A Victor Legris Mystery (Victor Legris Mysteries) Claude Izner | St. Martin’s Minotaur edition 2008