Books & Literature

Book Review: The Paris Affair, by Pip Drysdale

THRILLER: After moving to Paris, Harper Brown finds herself entangled in a web of lies, hot on the trail of a murderer and the scoop of a lifetime.

A clever study in social isolation.

What makes a crime novel a crime novel? What makes a romance a romance? What makes a novel about Paris a novel about Paris? In her new novel, The Paris Affair, Pip Drysdale poses us these questions.

Harper Brown is an Englishwoman newly arrived in Paris to take up a highly coveted position on the staff of an English-language magazine. She struggles to adjust to her adopted city as she speaks little to no French, a situation that serves only to isolate her. Through her work, she discovers a bold new artistic talent, the mysterious American artist Noah X. But tension is mounting in Paris and everyone is talking about the serial killer who is on the loose. Harper attends a party given by Noah X, after which Noah’s model becomes the killer’s next victim. The journalist in Harper comes to the fore and she begins to investigate, discovering more and more about the Parisian art scene and uncovering a shady web of deception, lies, and fraud. Harper is also the author of the blog ‘How Not To Get Murdered’, and the climax of the novel brings all her skills to the fore.

The Paris Affair is not a simple whodunnit, nor a mere romance, nor is it a run-of-the-mill book about a young woman in Paris. Pip Drysdale has very cleverly turned these situations on their heads by adding the theme of social isolation, giving us crimes that are observed rather than solved; showing us the complexities of love, sex, and romance in a world from which Harpers is a step removed. She also gives us a view of Paris, the city of love, that contains no Parisians and precious little love. 

Nowhere in this Paris are to be found Inspector Maigret and the dour men of the Police Judiciaire. Where other detectives attempt to get into the mind of the criminal, Harper’s position as an outsider allows Drysdale to tell us what is happening while remaining apart from it. Harper observes, using her skills to break into art galleries and wangle invites to parties she would not otherwise see, while remaining aloof, keeping her emotional distance and remaining uninvolved.

It is this estrangement, the sense of distance from the world around her that defines the novel. Harper encounters very few of the native inhabitants of the city (only an unnamed neighbour, a transient lover, and two detectives) but the language barrier prevents interaction. Instead, she talks with other outsiders, English and American journalists, and artists. For the most part, she gets her news from English sources and remains a step apart from the life of Paris around her. Her romantic interactions are likewise stunted, from a random hookup at a laundromat to a Tinder date with a native (Nee-co-lah) that, while sexually fulfilling, does not provide Harper with the social interaction she seems to simultaneously crave and push away.

Harper is an outsider in everything she does, going through her office, her work and the Parisian art scene with the minimum of interaction. Her social contact is almost exclusively carried out via telephone, with TXTs and calls going to and from the best friend she left behind in England. These calls, far from comforting her, only seek to magnify the distance between Harper and the city of people around her. Only at the climax of the novel, an action tableau set notably outside of Paris, does she realise that living in a city where you cannot understand anyone (and no-one can understand you) is not desirable.

The novel’s themes of isolation and estrangement are well done and make what could have been an otherwise run-of-the-mill novel into a winner.

Reviewed by DC White

Distributed by: Simon & Schuster
Released: 3 February 2021
RRP: $32.99

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