Death at the Paris Exposition was the perfect read for the first weekend of autumn. It was delicious to cuddle up with a blanket and a cup of tea and immerse myself in this mystery set in Paris.
Synopsis: Amateur sleuth Emily Cabot’s journey once again takes her to a world’s fair–the Paris Exposition of 1900. Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer is named the only female U. S. commissioner to the Exposition and enlists Emily’s services as her secretary. Their visit to the House of Worth for the fitting of a couture gown is interrupted by the theft of Mrs. Palmer’s famous pearl necklace. Before that crime can be solved, several young women meet untimely deaths and a member of the Palmer’s inner circle is accused of the crimes. As Emily races to clear the family name she encounters jealous society ladies, American heiresses seeking titled European husbands, and more luscious gowns and priceless jewels. Along the way, she takes refuge from the tumult at the country estate of Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt. In between her work and sleuthing, she is able to share the Art Nouveau delights of the Exposition, and the enduring pleasures of the City of Light with her family.
Initially I was interested in this novel for its Chicago (where I’m from) connection: amateur sleuth Emily Cabot is a Chicagoan currently employed by Chicago socialite and business woman, Bertha Palmer. As the blurb above stated, they’re in France for the Paris Exposition of 1900.
This is the sixth book in the Emily Cabot Mystery series and the first that I’ve read. Jumping into an ongoing series used to make me uneasy, but I no longer avoid it. After a few books the main character is firmly established and the writer is typically more skilled, making for a good read. I’ve come to find it’s a pleasure to start with the current book and go back to read others if I’m so inclined.
Part of the attraction of reading historical fiction is learning about places and time periods as well as the real people on which characters are based and seeing how cultural attitudes have changed about some things (say, divorce), but not others (Omaha). In addition to the Chicago connection there’s also
a Connecticut (where I live now) connection in the character of architect Theodate Pope who makes an appearance at an art gallery as a friend of Mary Cassat. Pope was the first female architect to be licensed in both Connecticut and New York. She also survived the sinking of the Lusitania. Mary Cassat’s character plays a more significant role in the novel than just a mention. I enjoyed how McNamara incorporated at least one of Cassat’s actual paintings within a fictional scene involving Emily. Nebraska (where I used to live) makes an appearance but, as usual, it is portrayed negatively, as a foil to the high culture and open mindedness of Paris. A Mrs. Johnston of Nebraska is portrayed as a closed minded ugly American from the cultureless pit of Omaha. Poor Nebraska.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read that never lagged. The time period, fashion, jewels, rich American
women, titled but broke English men, illicit affairs, and a big international event are rich ingredients for a mystery. There was a nice balance between the historical scene with descriptions of fashion and Paris with the crimes and tension of the plot. The mystery had me guessing.
Here is The Emily Cabot Mystery Series in chronological order:
- Book 1 Death at the Fair (2008)
- Book 2 Death at Hull House (2009)
- Book 3 Death at Pullman (2011)
- Book 4 Death at Woods Hole (2012)
- Book 5 Death at Chinatown (2014)
- Book 6 Death at the Paris Exposition (2016)
The author created a Pinterest board for the book (here) as did the publisher (here). Both have pictures of the fashions of the day, photos of Paris, ads for the Exposition, and portraits of the historical people represented in the novel.
I look forward to reading an Emily Cabot mystery set in Chicago.
Enter to win a copy below:
Title: Death at the Paris Exposition
Author: Frances McNamara
Publisher: Allium Press, September 1, 2016
Source: Review copy, France Book Tours
Bottom line: If you like historical mysteries and/or mysteries set in the fashion world or Paris, give this one a try.