Autumn 1915. World War I is raging across Europe but Woodrow Wilson has kept Americans out of the trenchesthough that hasn’t stopped young men and women from crossing the Atlantic to volunteer at the front. Christopher “Kit” Cobb, a Chicago reporter with a second job as undercover agent for the U.S. government, is officially in Paris doing a story on American ambulance drivers, but his intelligence handler, James Polk Trask, soon broadens his mission. City-dwelling civilians are meeting death by dynamite in a new string of bombings, and the German-speaking Kit seems just the man to figure out who is behind thempossibly a German operative who has snuck in with the waves of refugees coming in from the provinces and across the border in Belgium. But there are elements in this pursuit that will test Kit Cobb, in all his roles, to the very limits of his principles, wits, and talents for survival.
Fleetly plotted but engaging with political and cultural issues that deeply resonate today, Paris in the Dark is this series’ best novel yet.
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From off to the west the air cracked. The sound brass-knuckled us and faded away.
A bomb. Awful big or very near.
All around me the shadows of men had risen up and were retreating into the bar. They had the Zepps in mind. I jumped up too but stepped out onto the pavement of Boulevard Montparnasse.
It wasn’t Zepps. I’d have heard their engines. And the crack and fade were distinctive. Dynamite. This was a hand-delivered explosive. I looked west. Five hundred yards along the boulevard I could make out a billow of smoke glowing piss-yellow in the dark.
I made off in that direction at a swift jog.
My footfalls rang loud. As I neared, there were sounds. Battlefield sounds just after an engagement. The silence of ceased weapon fire filled with the afterclap of moaning, of gasping babble.
The police were wading into the bomb site now. I took a step off the island and onto the cobbles. My foot nudged something and I stopped again. I looked down.
A man’s naked arm, severed at the elbow, its hand with palm turned upward, its fingers splayed in the direction of the café, as if it were the master of ceremonies to this production of the Grand Guignol. Mesdames et messieurs, je vous présente la Grande Guerre. The goddamn Great War.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Robert Olen Butler brings us a riveting peek into Paris in the autumn of 1915. Kit Cobb is an American of German extraction, learning German and French from his actress mother as a child. Kit is a war correspondent for several US publications as World War I slowly grinds through Europe - when he isn't working as an undercover spy. We see Paris and the French through his eyes, and America through theirs. Paris in the Dark is peopled with a good mix of personalities and an intriguing story line. The historical facts are true to history and Paris is defined beautifully. It is a historical novel I feel comfortable recommending to family and friends, and encourage them to read it even if historical fiction isn't a first choice. Paris in the Dark is the fourth in a series featuring Christopher Marlowe Cobb, but is completely stand alone. I received a free electronic copy of this historical novel from Netgalley, Robert Olen Butler, and Mysterious Press, Grove Atlantic in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.
Christopher Marlowe Cobb (Kit) returns in Robert Olen Butler’s latest WWI novel. As a reporter, Kit is in Paris to write about the American volunteer ambulance drivers. This occupation also allows him to carry out assignments for American intelligence. As the German army advances into France, the French Secret Service believes that a saboteur has entered the city, hiding among the German refugees. There has been a series of bombings that they fear will erode the morale of the people and Kit is asked to use his language skills and ability to blend in to find him. As Kit tracks their suspect, he discovers that the answers may lie elsewhere. While working on his assignment for the French, he still has an obligation to his publisher and takes the time to meet with the young men who have come to Paris prior to America’s involvement in the war to offer their services. Introduced by Nurse Pickering to these young men, he finds a diverse group that includes a Harvard man from Boston and a farmer from Illinois. From the cafes of Paris to the forward aid stations, Butler provides an atmospheric read, building the tension to the final chase through the sewers of Paris. This is historical fiction at its’ finest. I would like to thank Grove Atlantic Publishing and NetGalley for the opportunity to enjoy this book and give my honest opinion.