Paris in the Dark (Christopher Marlowe Cobb)

Written by Robert Olen Butler
Review by Gini Grossenbacher

Autumn 1915. As the novel opens, even though Americans are not yet fighting in the European trenches, they are nevertheless crossing the Atlantic as volunteers, journalists, and spies in search of adventure, romance, and service. Christopher “Kit” Cobb, a seasoned Chicago reporter doubling as an undercover agent for the US government, is on assignment in Paris. His official task is to research the story on American ambulance drivers at the French front; his undercover task is the investigation of a bomber who unleashes a string of explosions among the occupants of Paris. He encounters a nurse named Louise Pickering who provides details about the medical facilities in Paris as the war expands. In the course of events, they fall in love.

In the opening chapters I had a difficult time relating to Christopher, the main character. Perhaps his emotional detachment led me to that conclusion. But then, through his relationship with Louise and his search to find the bomber, the novel pulled me in. Many suspenseful scenes pepper the novel, keeping me on my toes. In one hair-raising incident, Christopher tracks a bombing suspect named Staub, who stays in the back room of a bar. He waits before the door, debating his options. “What if I were to push into the room and find it was Staub? And find what else?” He hears rustling behind the door, turns the knob, but then Staub opens the door himself with a scar “angling down from hairline to left eyebrow.” The novel picks up speed from the middle onward as the bomber increases his range, aiming for the hospital at the front. Many twists and turns make for a satisfying ending.