Dark in the City of Light
Set during the Franco-Prussian war, largely in Paris, Paul Robertson’s latest novel weaves an exciting tale of deception and war-time intrigue, involving three members of a titled family: Baron Ferdinand Harsanyi, his daughter Therese, and his son Rudolph.
The strengths of this writer and his novel are many: a vivid depiction of a desperate Paris in the 1870s; a talent for imagining the political atmosphere and characters’ wanderings through both city and countryside of 140 years ago, supported by solid research; and a workmanlike concentration on development and maintenance of suspense that will draw readers through the novel to the end. In addition, his ability to explain the science behind one of the characters’ explosive concoctions is fascinating, possibly a result of first-hand knowledge and teaching high-school science, as mentioned in his bio. We can smell the chemicals and see the mysterious reactions as they take place, one frame at a time, as if in a slow motion sequence of a movie.
However, some of the reactions between characters are less effective, mostly as a result of forced or unlikely dialogue. For instance, a scene between lovers Therese and Auguste sounds clichéd and rather as if written for a tired soap opera. Therese tells her Auguste that she is so happy, and he responds: “How could it be otherwise? To be together, that is everything. For you to have me, so close, could only be happiness for you.” How full of himself Auguste sounds! And yet Therese simply agrees with him. But dialogue lapses aside, this is a solid effort at depicting an era that deserves more coverage. Readers interested in the Franco-Prussian war may want to add this book to their collection.