Sensational (Spectacle)

Written by Jodie Lynn Zdrok
Review by Ann Chamberlin

In 1889, Paris hosted a world’s fair, the Exposition Universelle, for which the Eiffel Tower was constructed to form the gateway, the head of New York’s Liberty was displayed, and visitors from all over the world participated. Against this backdrop and a City of Lights where visiting the morgue was right up there with the sewers and the catacombs on the tourists’ must-do list, Nathalie and her friends pursue the murderer who left a decapitated head among the busts in one of the exhibits for the centennial of the invention of the guillotine.

Nathalie and her friends are “Insightfuls,” having acquired the ability to touch the dead, feel their last thoughts, trace their steps, or see the crime from the murderer’s point of view. For me, coming to this second and concluding volume set in this world without previous introduction, a better initiation to the quirk would have been very helpful.

In general, I was frustrated by the vague wandering without purpose that plagued our cast of characters more even than any crazed murderer. As a rule, they visit the Exposition out of idle curiosity rather than a compelling search for clues or to save lives. Where was the chase through exhibits wherein details are skillfully woven? The whole mystery, which could have given us wonderful insight into Parisian theatre life at the time, seemed to be a secondary, throw-away plot, skipped over in favor of less-compelling dead ends in the maze. Characters are dull: We are not introduced to victims or possible perpetrators with any sort of interest, a common forte of the genre. Why must we spend time stroking a cat? Nathalie whips out articles for the press—members of l’Académie must be rolling over in their graves—with no thought at all.

If you enjoyed the first volume, you might read this to see how it all plays out. We’re promised there will be no more.