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It's 1889 and Paris is buzzing. The famous World Fair is being set up, seeking to represent spectacles from each corner of the globes, as well as displaying new advances in science and technology. One profession representing itself at the World's Fair is the detective.
Think Sherlock Holmes and multiply him by twelve, scattering the clones all over the planet. Each one has his own methods, idiosyncrasies and, of course, his own faithful assistant. These detectives make up the Twelve Detectives, the greatest and most famous detectives in the world.
The only member of this elite group who does not have an assistant (or 'acolyte') is Renato Craig, an Argentinian.
Meanwhile, Salvatrio Sigmundo, son of a shoemaker living in Argentina, longs to become a detective. An avid follower of the exploits of the Twelve Detectives, Salvatrio knows everything about their methods and habits. One day, he reads that Renato Craig is setting up an Academy. Without hesitation, Sigmundo applies.
The application is successful, and Sigmundo, along with 20 other budding detectives, is taught the methodology behind Renato Craig's detecting skills. However, due to a concatenation of circumstances, Craig falls ill just before the meeting of the Twelve Detectives at the Paris World's Fair, and he chooses Sigmundo to take his place.
Shortly after Sigmundo arrives in Paris and meets the detectives and their acolytes, a murderer strikes. Louis Darbon, the Parisian member of the Twelve Detectives, is found dead after falling from the (at this time incomplete) Eiffel Tower.
Viktor Arkazy, co-founder of the Twelve Detectives, commits himself to the investigation of Darbon's murder. However, because his acolyte is of waning health (and therefore ill-equipped for the more rigorous aspects of detective work), Arkazy employs Sigmundo to be his acolyte for the investigation. For Sigmundo, it is the chance of a lifetime. But can a mere acolyte ever advance to become a detective? Sigmundo's fellow acolytes say it is impossible. However, Sigmundo sets out to prove his ability, even if it means breaking a few of the group's rules.
I have to say I had extremely high expectations of 'The Paris Enigma', and so I was potentially in a position of great disappointment. However, this book not only fulfilled my expectations but positively surpassed them! From the moment Sigmundo entered Paris I fell head-over-heels into a world where fact and fiction overlapped, where the Sherlock Holmeses and Hercule Poirots were no longer confined to the realms of fiction but dazzled the 19th century population with their exploits. For many readers, it's an all-too-tempting world.
Another strong part of the novel's appeal is the pace. The momentum of the book is extremely clever. There are moments of slowness that last until they are almost-but-not-quite unbearable, and then the drama kicks in with a BANG as excitement fills the atmosphere. Then, things calm down for a bit until another discovery is made. It's a simple but effective tactic on the part of Argentinian author Pablo de Santis, one which maintains a happy balance by leaning towards the extremes.
As to the murder mystery itself, the plot is so full of twists and turns that I would have never guessed the ending despite all the clues Sigmundo finds. You'll be pleased to know that it ends in a thoroughly satisfying way, and nothing is unexplained.
The novel is narrated by Sigmundo throughout, and is told in a clear manner. He doesn't dive into his own background too much, which was an advantage in my opinion as it put the main focus on the plot rather than Sigmundo himself. Moreover, the first person narration was useful because Sigmundo is a newcomer to the meeting of the Twelve Detectives, as is the reader, and so while Sigmundo learns the reader learns.
Pablo de Santis being an Argentinian author, the novel was translated from its original Spanish. I didn't find this made the style awkward; on the contrary it was remarkably fluid, and often yielded beautiful philosophical gems. My favourite part of the book (apart from its brilliant ending) was when the Twelve Detectives discussed their different philosophies on the subject of murder and detection. They waxed lyrical on their theories and all used different analogies and case studies to back up their arguments. I think it shows the author's great imaginative power that he could create all these metaphors. In addition to this, he had to create a large number of cases for the detectives and Sigmundo to refer back to, and each is as inspired and complex as the last.
At 355 pages, the book is of a fairly standard length. Each chapter is usually around 5 pages long, although sometimes they are shortened for dramatic effect. I finished this book in just two days on holiday because I became so enthralled with the adventure. It certainly is a page-turner, so be prepared to stay awake until the early hours reading!
Overall I was absolutely delighted with 'The Paris Enigma'. It ticked all the boxes for a good murder mystery and kept me hanging on until the very end. It is perfectly crafted in its structure and leaves no loose threads untied. On finishing the book, I felt totally satisfied, as well as marvelling over the fantastic ending. This is not a book you will forget in a hurry.