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Having been transported back in time to post war France in the tail end of summer 1945 with the first in this cosy series featuring cryptic crossword cluer Fenella Churche, I was excited to sink my teeth in yet another of her historical mysteries with NIGHT TRAIN TO PARIS. And while I didn't find it as enthralling as the first, it was still an engaging read.
October 1945: After uncovering a murderer in a Chateau winery along with the truth about what happened to her fiance Arthur, Fen Churche travelled by train from Burgundy to Paris to visit an old family friend and bohemian artist, Madame Rose Coillard. Accompanied by her late fiance's friend James Lancaster, Fen is looking forward to relaxing and showing James the galleries and beauty of Paris.
Upon arrival they discover that Rose has no room for James as she has recently taken a lodger, Simone, and James is left to find a hotel in which to stay. But his presence has not gone unnoticed by the young Simone who works at a fashion house with upcoming designers Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain, as she sets her sights on the dashing James. Fen is concerned that Simone is only interested in his title and sees him as a meal ticket, having come from meagre beginnings herself. Her almost unseen disdain at Fen's Jewish friend Magda who has, since the war practically gone from riches to rags, did not go unnoticed by me as I felt her niceness was a facade for some other ulterior motive. I didn't like her from the beginning nor did I trust her.
Rose, however, is an accomplished artist she has spent many years copying the artistic greats but also adding her own flourishes to make them her own. But some have accused her of selling forgeries to some of the more affluent dignitaries in the City of Love. Unless her agent has been less then forthcoming with her works, passing them off as originals, and reaping the benefits of the sale without passing it on to Rose herself. She may be bohemian and a little eccentric, but Rose is not a fraud. She just appreciates art.
But that may not be the only aspect of her past that is catching up to her. Rose spent the war on the side of the Resistance by keeping track of all the stolen art from Jewish families and the like by the Germans during the war. All she needs is to find her cipher to decode her list to reveal exactly where these stolen paintings are today. But apparently someone does not want these paintings returned to their rightful owners...or so it would seem.
Then when Fen and James return to Rose's apartment one afternoon, they are shocked to discover her body on the floor of her studio with a paintbrush through her neck! The police are called and a quick search of the apartment reveals some of Rose's more valuable paintings as well as most of her jewellery are missing, and the police rule it as a robbery gone wrong. After the initial shock of finding her old friend's body, Fen and James then join forces to do some investigating of their own...to uncover who really killed Rose Coillard. Was it just an opportunistic killing? Or was it the work of the WW2 double agent known only as The Chameleon?
It took me a while to get into the story as all that seemed to be happening was Simone fluttering her eyes at James and Fen frequenting galleries whilst Rose paints and entertains them for tea. It wasn't until about 40% that the pace started to slowly pick up and things started to happen. Admittedly, I was tempted to give up prior to this as it was taking far too long to get interesting. And Simone was frustratingly sickening. As it was, the subject matter is not one that interests me a great deal as I know very little about art and found some of it confusing. However, the story did get marginally better and was a fairly engaging read.
I found some parts a little repetitive at times with "after hearing a knock at the door and Tipper's usual reception, Fen is relieved to find it is only James". This occurred a couple of times in the space of a chapter that one might assume that door knocking and opening to be an integral part of the story.
As the story took a while to build or go anywhere, I was able to identify the murderer before the said murder even took place! Not that it deterred me in anyway as I was eager to discover if my sleuthing proved to be correct. And despite the slow start, NIGHT TRAIN TO PARIS was something of a page-turner.
Although I did enjoy the first book "A Dangerous Goodbye" far more than this one, NIGHT TRAIN TO PARIS is a delightful step back in time to post-war Paris steeped in history and alas, murder! I enjoyed catching up with Captain (or rather Viscount) James Lancaster and had hoped for a bit more of time together with Fen rather than the sultry Simone. But as the reader is to discover, there is more to learn about James Lancaster, a former SOE operative during the war, than meets the eye.
I am not familiar with Paris or its traditions so I do look forward to Fen's return to England and hope that her next mystery will find her tucked up in her West Sussex village with James Lancaster as a nearby neighbour perhaps, so as to be on hand to assist in future mysteries.
A light and engaging read for fans of cosy and historical mysteries.
In the first book of the series, A Dangerous Goodbye, Land Army girl, Fenella (Fen) Churche and her fiancé, Arthur, share a love of cryptic crossword puzzles. To get past the redactors, Arthur uses cryptic clues in his letters to Fen. His final letter to her in 1944 reads like a goodbye. When Arthur doesn't return after the end of the war, Fen travels to France, following the clues in Arthur's letter, to find out what happened to him. In Morey-Fontaine, a village in Burgundy, she finds work in a vineyard, meets Captain James Lancaster, Arthur's friend, and sadly learns Arthur's fate.
Night Train to Paris begins with Fen's arrival in Paris accompanied by James Lancaster. She intends to spend a few days with her godmother and old family friend, Rose Coillard, before heading home to England.
Rose is an artist surrounded by controversy. Her passion is studying the techniques of famous artists and replicating their works, which gives rise to the rumour that she is a forger. However, it is her wartime activities that surprise and intrigue Fen. When Rose is murdered, and also one of her wartime contacts, Fen begins to suspect that these deaths are related to what Rose did as part of the Resistance.
The pilfering of art by the Nazis during World War II is the background to this latest mystery involving ex-Land Army girl Fen Churche. The role attributed to Rose Coillard in the novel was inspired by the true story of Rose Valland, an art historian and member of the French Resistance, who kept records of the details and whereabouts of national and privately owned Jewish art that was looted by the Nazis, thus facilitating the return of the artwork to the rightful owners after the war.
I found Night Train to Paris an excellent continuation of the series. Like the first book, I read it in an afternoon. The mystery kept me guessing, the characters were engaging and I enjoyed the depiction of Parisian life immediately after the war, which included the worlds of fashion and art. I'm hoping there will be another Fen Churche mystery soon.
An amazingly terrific second book with Fen and James in Paris visiting an old friend. The war is not long finished and there is much intrigue throughout The Art world of looted treasures by the occupiers, and betrayals by members of the Resistance and the residents of Paris. WW 2 was a very murky time in France and the author weaves fact and fiction seamlessly.
I love that Fen and James gel together and see more books in the future. Perhaps homage to Arthur and his comrades tracking art, spies, stolen loot and war criminals. They fit right into this role.
This was the worst book I’ve read in a long time. The characters were one dimensional and the whole book lacked authenticity. For example, a character ordered Tartiflette in a cafe in the 1940s, when the dish was invented in the 1980s. Similarly, a character learnt to make Cassoulet, a dish from South West France in Burgundy. The murder did not occur until almost halfway through the book and the resolution was pedestrian. The dog Tipper was the only redeeming feature in all the mis-conceived stereotypes. I bought the second book at the same time as this one but I deleted it from my Kindle without reading it.
Fabulous, to be back in the company of Fen and dear James again. What tragedy falls upon these two, taking us on a massive rollercoaster of a ride through Paris with a part time line that keeps us totally glued to the book i want to give nothing away as it was totally mesmerising and so addictive this two book series is so worth reading i can't praise it nearly enough.