Review: Murder on the Champs-Élysées (The Belle Époque Mysteries, #1) by Alex Mandon

Paris, 1900. The height of the Belle-Époque: decadence, wealth, hedonism…and murder. 

“Mandon creates a gay lead character in a mainstream mystery, with refreshing and ingenious insight!" 
—Kathryn Lynn Davis, New York Times bestselling author 

Homicide investigator Guillaume Devré stands for the silenced victims, bound to seek justice as he makes his way from the wide boulevards frequented by the tout-Paris to the narrow byways of Montmartre, to the shadow of the Tour Eiffel and the lush elegance of Maxim’s. 

When the most famous courtesan in Paris becomes the prime suspect in the death of a wealthy young man, Inspector Devré is reluctantly drawn into the opulent parlors and witty manners of high society. As the investigation unfolds, he must contend with a bloodthirsty press and the outrageous behavior of his suspect…as well as his own prejudices and unfulfilled needs. 

Devré soon realizes that solving this murder could expose him and his darkest secret. 

Murder on the Champs-Élysées is the first in a new series featuring Inspector Guillaume Devré, a homicide detective from la Sûreté who lives a secret life on the fringes of respectable society, the powerful courtesan known as La Balise—with secrets of her own—and the gruff but brilliant American pathologist Dr. Jackson. 

See that blurb? Wanna know how much of it I read before I had my hand in the air all 'MEMEMEMEMEME'?

"Paris, 1900." 

The end. REQUESTED! That + the title = done deal. I'm really glad I did too because this is a fantastic book. It's lush with vibrant characters and a mystery plot line that's absorbing. If an author can get my thoughts to churn over a book when I'm not reading the book, that's the mark of a good read and an invested reader.

Before I forget, this isn't a romance. There are romantic elements that may evolve into something as the series progresses, but this is gay lit/fiction. The blurb (that I only read two words of) doesn't really indicate that and I admit I was expecting there to be some romance, but I have to tell you I got so engrossed in this story that I... forgot. I looked down at the percentage read and was at almost 90% when I realized, 'hey! this isn't a romance!'. Clearly, I don't feel shortchanged in the slightest, but if you need sex and romance in your reads, you'll likely be disappointed.

The central "relationship" in this novel is between Devré and Lucie and the best way to describe their relationship is adversarial. He's investigating the murder of Paul Bacard and she is his prime suspect. They are worthy adversaries. Both are clever, astute, observant and perceptive. They don't like each other but it's clear they respect each other. Their quipping and maneuvering was entertaining and is what endeared both to me. I don't know whether I liked their interplay better or Dr. Jackson with either of them.

Dr. Jackson is a GR-HAAAAAA-UMP and a pathologist. He make me laugh so hard a few times that I had my face in my hands trying to stifle my cackling. AND he's American! An American outgrumped the original grumps! Priceless!

Devré is an inspector with La Sûreté. He's also a dandy. Can we just pause for a moment of dandy appreciation? Go ahead and conjure up your favorite image, I'll wait. *stares into the distance* He's gay and all that that implies in 1900. The fact that he's a law enforcement officer further complicates matters for him. He's got some self-loathing going on due to his sexuality which pulled at my heartstrings. I'm hoping he can find some peace and happiness before this thing is said and done. Maybe with Huvet? *hopeful eyes* 

His was a life of subterfuge and dishonesty juxtaposed with a vocation spent uncovering truth and promoting justice.

La Balise a.k.a. Lucie-Genviève Madeleine is the most famous courtesan in all of Paris. Can I just say how much I love the French? I LOVE THE FRENCH!!!!!! They revere her so much that they've elevated her into the rarified stratosphere of celebrity. Of course she's beautiful and charming, but anyone that underestimates her because of her gender does so at their own peril. I do love a strong, quick witted female character and Mandon has created one with Lucie.

Truth be told, I loved all three of these characters. They, as well as the secondary characters, all are expertly drawn with unique voices. Mandon's prose is strong and sumptuous, flowing like the Seine on a summer day with its rich imagery. It's also so very, very FRENCH! Mandon didn't just capture the ethos and decadence of the bourgeoise of this era, but the mindset that makes the French so... well, French. 

First and foremost, this novel is a mystery full of twists and turns, multiple suspicious characters and subterfuge. The way the case evolves is smart, slowly revealing a breadcrumb trail of clues for the reader to follow. There are no explosions or grandiose antics to cheapen the narrative. It stays true to the time and is truly an investigation, some aspects of which can be mundane, but I'll tell you, Mandon gave me a run for my money. That's a win in my book.

The weaving of the historical aspects into the fabric of this narrative so seamlessly lends further credence to Mandon being an accomplished writer. It's clearly well researched from the language to the attitudes to the class differences to the societal expectations of the time. All are top-notch. Never once did I get pulled out of the story by a careless lapse in continuity. 

I loved a lot about this book but how Paris is integral, almost like another character in the story made it special for me. I always get a thrill when I've been to the places in my reads especially when I loved the place and I love Paris. Cliché or no, tis true.
Gorgeous writing, likable characters that are fully realized and an engrossing mystery have ensured that I'll be back for The Belle Époque Mysteries part deux.

Recommend to mystery fans.

A review copy was provided.

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