Plot: In two earlier novels, Theresa Schurman, the Viennese violinist/sleuth who passes herself off as a man for the chance to play music professionally, has solved mysteries in the age of Haydn and Mozart. Now, at age 18, she's dispatched to Paris by Emperor Joseph II to observe and suss out a potential court conspiracy against Marie Antoinette. Schurman's undercover adventures in pre-revolutionary Paris encompass a stay in a marvelously described brothel, visits to balls and salons, a night in the Bastille, and a potential romance with the violin virtuoso the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the best swordsman in Paris. The settings and situations are enchanting and varied; Dunlap is adept at on-the-fly description and at lacing intrigue with romance. This novel's central mystery, though, takes quite a number of chapters to come into focus, and the stakes feel low for Theresa throughout the novel's first half.
Prose/Style: Dunlap proves an arresting tour guide through this rich milieu, summoning up the past without slowing down the storytelling. Author and protagonist alike boast an epigrammatic wit. The touch is light, but the scenery and chatter are sumptuous.
Originality: There's much that's delightful in Dunlap's evocation of court life and dressmaking in late 18th-century Paris. The author’s eye for compelling detail and ear for memorable dialogue keep "The Paris Affair" fresher than its somewhat generic title promises. The mystery itself, ultimately, proves less engaging than the characters and revelations that Theresa encounters as she chases down the truth. Theresa's musings about music, or the power of fine lace, or her eavesdropping on the dishing of a pair of seamstresses, are the heart of the novel's appeal.
Character Development: Theresa stands as a fascinating protagonist, a woman whose nimble navigation of society's expectations and several burgeoning romances are exciting and inspiring, even more so than the sleuthing that drives the novel's plot. The people she encounters are likewise memorable, complex, and surprising, especially the chevalier.
Blurb: This sparkling historical mystery conjures up the salons, fashion, and gossip of Marie Antoinette's Paris, with a winning emphasis on the power of music and the roles that society allowed women.
Date Submitted: April 28, 2020