Imogen Robertson's break-out novel - a deep, dark and opulent tale of Belle Époque Paris, and the secrets and dangers hidden beneath its luxurious facade. Maud Heighton came to Lafond's famous Académie to paint, and to flee the constraints of her small English town. It took all her courage to escape, but Paris eats money. While her fellow students enjoy the dazzling joys of the Belle Époque, Maud slips into poverty. Quietly starving, and dreading another cold Paris winter, Maud takes a job as companion to young, beautiful Sylvie Morel. But Sylvie has a secret: an addiction to opium. As Maud is drawn into the Morels' world of elegant luxury, their secrets become hers. Before the New Year arrives, a greater deception will plunge her into the darkness that waits beneath this glittering city of light.
Set in Paris in 1909, this standalone from Robertson falls short of the high standard of her Westerman and Crowther historicals (Circle of Shadows, etc.). Englishwoman Maud Heighton, an impoverished art student at the Acad mie Lafond, is shaken by the suicide of her fellow student Rose Champion. Maud believes that Rose hanged herself because she was poor and felt like a failure. Meanwhile, another fellow student, Tanya Koltsova, helps Maud financially by arranging a position for her as a companion to Sylvie Morel, a "sickly young woman who wishes to spend her free hours sketching the Paris streets and must have some respectable person to accompany her." Maud finds the work more challenging than expected after she catches Sylvie stealing a brooch, a crime that Sylvie's attractive brother, Christian, downplays. Further developments involving Sylvie result in violence and murder. Robertson fans will miss her customary strong lead and supporting characters with depth.
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An Atmospheric Tale of Two Halves
I think another reviewer said this book was, at least in part, reminiscent of Sarah Waters and so it is, at least in the first half, conjuring up a convincing picture of a dark & moody early 20th century Paris. With its device of describing fictional paintings at the start of each chapter I found this half intensely readable. But sadly the promise was not sustained as we progressed into the meat of the mystery, as it were, which became, well, a bit of a romp. Still well written & readable but it didn't quite finish what it started. Nevertheless I'd certainly read more by this author.