The Devil in Montmartre

Written by Gary Inbinder
Review by Arleigh Johnson

A macabre murder mystery with a host of intriguing characters, including a clever detective, the artist Toulouse-Lautrec, and Inbinder’s own protagonists from his novel The Flower to the Painter, this story is set in 1889 Paris, at the close of the Universal Exposition. A young Moulin Rouge Can-Can dancer’s body is found in the sewer under strange circumstances that have the police force questioning a host of individuals acquainted with the victim.

The main suspects include Toulouse-Lautrec, who had recently ended a tumultuous relationship with the dancer, English gynecologist Sir Henry Collingwood, and a circus performer known to be abusive to women. As Inspectors Achille Lefebvre and Rousseau visit the crime scene, collecting evidence and gaining leads, their chief, Paul Feraud, struggles to keep the crime under wraps. The press is likely to connect the killing with Jack the Ripper, who had made headlines in London the previous year and remains on the loose. Not wanting his men to suffer the same ridicule as Scotland Yard, Feraud sets his two best detectives on a race against time.

Forensic science was in its infancy, and though Achille was an advocate for the new discovery of fingerprinting, his colleagues were curiously less than thrilled with the technique. This detailed inclusion, along with advances in crime scene photography and autopsies make a fascinating read for those interested in the era. The author’s use of his previous characters adds a touch of familiarity, but does not complicate the flow for new readers. The story covers only a handful of days, and is told through multiple perspectives, which makes it more challenging for the reader to decide on the identity of the culprit—a satisfying mystery to the end. Highly recommended for Ripper fans and lovers of fin de siècle!