Title: Murder on the Eiffel Tower (#1 in the Victor Legris series)
Author: Claude Izner (the website is in French)
Publisher: Gallic Books 
No. of Pages: 286
The book is set in Paris in 1889 which was the setting for the World Expo at which what was then the world’s tallest structure, the Eiffel Tower, was officially opened. A woman collapses and dies on one of the Tower’s platforms and the official story is that she died of a bee sting. Even when other people die, also purportedly of bee stings, the Police do not appear to be taking much interest in the deaths. However, Victor Legris, a local bookseller, becomes convinced the deaths are more than coincidences and commences an investigation of sorts.
The historical part of this historical crime fiction is fascinating. The book manages to depict the time beautifully, giving a real sense of the place and the people and the truly wondrous thing that the Tower and the associated Expo must have been at the time. There are references to the art movements centred in Paris at the time and numerous other facts that we associate with the city and it all has a very realistic feel. There are a couple of instances where I thought modern day sensibilities had been unrealistically ascribed to 19th Century Parisians but overall I thoroughly enjoyed losing myself in this setting.
Unfortunately the crime part of the book wasn’t nearly as riveting. The amateur sleuth, Victor Legris, doesn’t really detect anything. He leaps from one misplaced conclusion to another and the ultimate resolution to the mystery was achieved more in spite of his actions than because of them. Not that there were a heck of a lot of clues pointing in the direction of the villain (I had guessed the culprit but it was the same kind of guesswork that Victor engaged in and not based on a single fact provided in the book). It felt to me as if the various ‘acts’ of the plot were used more to depict some aspect of the city or the Expo that the author wanted to highlight than to advance the plot with the result that the plot was weaker than it should have been.
The characterisations in the book varied in their success. I never ‘bought’ Legris because he was far too willing to believe his friends to be guilty of murder and thought nothing of spying on them or going through their possessions. In addition he’s ridiculously melodramatic and not terribly bright and I really can’t see that kind of protagonist sustaining a series. His love interest, Tasha the struggling Russian artist, started out strongly but towards the end I found her a bit insipid and inconsistent with her earlier self. However some of the minor characters, including Joseph the bookseller’s assistant and mystery aficionado, were far more engaging and credible.
Claude Izner is the pseudonym for two French sisters who are modern Parisian booksellers with particular expertise in this time period so the historical aspect of this book is first rate. The whodunnit side of the book is less well developed but it’s a fun read in spite of that.
My rating 3/5
Nice review. I like the premise and I’m glad to hear that the historical aspects are done well. I’ll be passing this one up though. I have enough really great mysteries on my shelves waiting to be read that I don’t need to read one in which the mystery part is not up to par.