A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.
The Mysteries of Paris, by Eugène Sue (Penguin Classics), was originally serialized in France’s Journal des Débats, spinning out on the front page of that newspaper over 150 issues, from June 1842 until October 1843. As Wikipedia notes, Sue’s yarn spawned a popular 19th-century literary genre known as “city mysteries,” in which “characters explore the secret underworlds of cities and reveal corruption and exploitation, depicting violence and deviant sexuality.” It’s said that the success of The Mysteries of Paris helped inspire Alexander Dumas to compose The Count of Monte Cristo (1844) and Victor Hugo to pen Les Misérables (1862). The Foreword to this new, Penguin translation of Sue’s story opines, “It is probably not going too far to say that The Mysteries of Paris is the most important work of 19th-century fiction that is virtually unread in English.” So what’s Mysteries all about? Having not yet digested it myself (the epic is, after all, more than 1,300 pages long!), I’ll quote from the back-jacket copy, which explains that it “unfolds around Rodolphe, a magnetic hero of noble heart and shadowy origins. When Rodolphe rescues Songbird, a young prostitute of breathtaking purity, from an attack by a ruffian called Slasher, he sets off the dominoes of a heroic narrative traversing the social divides of a city where the fortunes of the rich and the poor are more entangled than anyone can imagine.” This is “far from a casual read,” observes David L. Vineyard in Mystery*File. “It gives the term Victorian triple-decker new meaning. But it is also filled with exciting scenes, interesting characters, and if Sue lacks [Charles] Dickens’ more literary qualities, he quite shares his ability to tell a story and to involve the reader in the lives of his creations.”
Meanwhile, James Lee Burke’s House of the Rising Sun (Simon & Schuster)--a comparatively lean 448 pages in length--delivers readers into the company of Hackberry Holland, a sometime Texas Ranger (and grandfather of characters with whom Burke has peopled previous books). During an ambush by Mexicans, in 1916, of U.S. soldiers at a brothel, he acquires a jeweled artifact that may or may not be the elusive Holy Grail, but that an unscrupulous arms dealer named Arnold Beckman definitely wants for his own. While struggling to remain free of Beckman’s clutches, the deeply flawed Hackberry searches for his estranged soldier son and is bedeviled by three different women of notable complexity. This is essentially a Western redemption tale, with dialogue that’s crisper than bacon fried over a campfire.
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