A blog about literature, politics, crime novels, recipes and restaurants, food and wine, travel and other essentials. Visit my author website. For my custom walking tours of Paris (and elsewhere), please visit my Paris, Paris Tours blog. For my travel, food, wine and tours of the Italian Riviera, visit my new site WanderingLiguria

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Reviews of Paris City of Night

The first reviews are coming on... on and blogs... Here's a sampler.

SEX AND THE CIA--Michael Balter
Okay, this book's hero, Jay Grant, whose father was a CIA man, has got two women in his life although only one of them really has his best interests at heart. It takes Jay quite a while to figure that out, however, as he is pursued from one end of Paris to another trying to figure out why both the CIA and a bunch of bad guys are after some daguerreotypes--could it be they contain the codes needed to blow up the city? Or to stop the city from being blown up? Only a longtime Paris resident writer like David Downie could weave City of Light street scenes so integrally into a fast-paced thriller like this and not lose the plot thread. And talk about your celebrity cameos! Adolph Eichmann, Jim Morrison--never mind that they are dead, they both play key roles. Downie brings both Paris and his characters alive with an economical but richly descriptive prose style reminiscent of Raymond Chandler and Eric Ambler. A must read!

I originally discovered Downie's writing through his deliciously evocative food and travel books, so was most curious to read his fiction. It was equally thrilling, albeit in a completely different genre.
Paris is affectionately nicknamed "The City of Light." But where there's light, there's inevitably shadow. Like many expat writers, Downie knows his adopted turf better than many locals -- witness the spot-on description of Jim Morrison's gravesite or a seedy barber shop near the Pantheon -- and he illuminates those hidden recesses, painting a vivid chiaroscuro portrait of the shady Parisian underbelly. Paris, City of Night recalls the complex political intrigues of Le Carré, the shadowy ambiance of Ambler, the psychological insight of Simenon, the cat-and-mouse tension of Highsmith... yet showcases Downie's unique voice and pitch-perfect perspective on his adopted city. And his prose is relentlessly entertaining (or entertainingly relentless). His recipe mixes secret Daguerreotype codes, embittered Cold Warriors, terrorists, and a somewhat reluctant, ambivalent "son of a spook" hero -- with a soupcon of sex and even spicier political commentary.
After reading this twisting compulsive CIA actioner, you'll never think of Paris in quite the same way.
For a sunnier view of his expat hometown, I recommend reading Downie's ode in essay form (Paris Paris) or one of his marvelous cookbooks (which also include delectable details of local flavor as well as flavors).

After sitting up all night, unable to put down this amazingly crafted, sensational book, I can only recommend it wholeheartedly and hope that it receives even part of the extraordinary recognition it merits. The writing is sublime. I have read many thrillers and many thrillers that take place all over the world, but this is stupendous, addictive and stays with you after you've finished as you marvel at Downie, wondering: "How did he DO that?" Please give yourself a real treat, get your own copy and then just see if you can put it down before you've finished it. I dare you!

"Paris City of Night" is so gripping that I stayed up reading it all night and finished it over breakfast. So hyped up, so engrossed was I by how the story was going to turn out that I forgot that I was ALSO eating and dropped a nice splotch of egg yolk on my beige slacks. "Thriller" is right... What a yarn! And what knowledge of photography the author has! It's extremely well-written (but that's no surprise, given Downie's other books) and I loved all the detail about the Paris neighborhoods and streets, of course. Bravo, bravo to the author for pulling this off. And bravo for writing it in such a made-for-movie way. If I were a rich producer, I'd grab it in a nanosecond. I hope to see it on the screen someday. Whatever the fate of this masterpiece (and I hope it will have a long and healthy life!), I'm giving it my hearty and early endorsement.

I cannot recommend this super-suspense thriller highly enough. It will keep you guessing and on thge edge of your seat the whole time and you will never be able to look at Paris quite the same way again.
Downie is a master at crafting a story with real, dimensional characters, places with texture, keen dialogue and beautiful language that stays with you. He is always a step ahead in his action and that is just the way you'll like it.
I hope this will be just the first of many thrillers to come from this exceptional author. Encore, monsieur!

Another One Hits the Dust: Media Deaths

Gamma, the photo agency, is too well known to need introducing. Click to read about Gamma’s downfall, a story typical of the “free everything” culture currently in vogue.

Free? For now. But we’ll pay down the road. Not with dollars or euros or any other currency. We’ll pay with our freedom, because without real knowledge based on real reporting we cannot be free.

No one wants to spend money on news, photography, writing, reliable information? The Internet, so addictive and so clearly useful -- this blog, your emails, the news 24/7, videos, TV, radio, etc… -- is killing the proverbial media geese that lay the golden eggs. The Internet is deflationary. It is destroying many more jobs than it can ever create. Another metaphor: the economic downturn is merely the last nail in the media coffin.

With “classic media” outlets going down by the day, there is less and less paid work for professional wire service journalists, newspaper and magazine writers, freelancer writers, researchers and photographers. At the current rate of bankruptcy, only a few pros will be left by the end of this year. Reporting and analysis will be left to “citizen reporters” and bloggers.

More on that below.

Similar financial problems are affecting book publishing, distribution and retail sales: fewer and fewer readers are actually buying new books. More and more people are buying “used” books off the Internet. Many of these are simply new review copies of books that book-review bloggers resell. Other “used” books have been read once before being put back on the marketplace via the Internet. Authors and publishers earn no royalties off used books.

Audible books and ebooks are further cutting into the numbers. The profit margin on such books is too slim to sustain book professionals. The result is, publishers have even less money than they once did to spend on nurturing authors, promoting books, and taking risks on worthy projects that might not show an immediate return.

Authors are often not paid advances these days, and they earn a fraction of what they once earned. Mid-list authors are disappearing. Only best-selling books are promoted.

Bookstores are folding faster than shrouds can wrap them. Berkeley, the great university city, once home to dozens of fine bookstores, has no independent sellers of new books.

Back to blogs and unpaid “journalism.” A word from the distinguished author and newspaper hound Mort Rosenblum, currently editor of the start-up, print magazine Dispatches:

<<Bill Keller, the Times' grandpa executive editor, made the real point when Jones sneered at red ink the paper bleeds while Huffington Post rakes in ad profits.

"The last time I was in Baghdad I didn't see a Huffington Post bureau or a Google bureau or a Drudge Report bureau there," Keller said.

Real foreign coverage is expensive and dangerous, he said. "It's a lot easier to sit home and riff on the work that somebody else does."

Huffpost is a cocktail party where the famous or the most articulate, unpaid, talk the loudest. Some of it makes good reading. But to report, you've got to be there.>>

Dispatches is excellent. But it’s not free. Will enough readers subscribe to make it viable? I hope so.

Bloggers and citizen reporters are swell. They are not paid, and they’re often not trained. The world needs trained media professionals. We already have plenty of thin-sliced, smoked goose breast in the local hyper-market cold case. Let’s not kill and cook the remaining specimens of this endangered species.

Here’s Rosenblum again: << "News" that helps us avert calamity is a complex mix of fast-changing realities. You don't cover a story; you uncover it. And only the best get it right.>>

The same could be said of good books, fiction and nonfiction.

Everything comes from somewhere. Nothing comes from nowhere. Culture and knowledge underlie our western notions of freedom. They must be cultivated. They must be paid for by consumers. All of us.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sarkozy Should Chill Out

The athletic young president of France Nicolas Sarkozy keels over while jogging in the greenery... he’s whisked off to a hospital in Paris... radio silence on his condition... Sound like the beginning of a thriller? Nope. Reality. Happened two days ago, on Sunday. Maybe he got too much sun (but it's raining in Paris!) or stayed up all night reading my thriller (but it's in English!). Happy summer! And remember, “chill” rhymes with “thrill.” Paris City of Night is set in December. Flip the pages and cool off…

Monday, July 13, 2009

Paris City of Night Thriller Chill-Out for Bastille Day

One way to stay cool in the heat of July...

Paris is alluring and seductive but by no means benign, as Jay Grant well knows. Orange alerts make people trigger-happy. Red and black alerts are worse. They transform the City of Light into a hellish City of Night...

“A wild ride through the dark side of Paris.”——Diane Johnson, internationally best-selling author of Le Divorce

“A fast-moving, atmospheric thriller. Best to start reading this one early in the evening... unless, that is, you don't mind losing a night's sleep!” ——David Hunt, best-selling author of The Magician's Tale

“Unputdownable——a real page-turner. No one should miss this.”
——Anton Gill, author of the world best-selling series The Egyptian Mysteries

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

The July 3rd Jim Morrison Memorial BBQ

Whether or not you enjoy the music of The Doors, whether or not you’re a fan of Jim Morrison, it’s worth detouring to Pere-Lachaise cemetery in Paris to see the crowds that gather on July 3 to celebrate, mourn or scorn the rock star. He died in a Paris bathtub on a hot July 3rd, 1971 and was buried here, in the east of Paris, in the 20th arrondissement. The circumstances leading to his death are still the subject of speculation. Was he murdered? If so, why? By whom? The CIA? Why would they bother?

Morrison surfaces more than once in Paris City of Night, my new thriller. He’s one of the background voices in the head of Jay Anthony Grant, the novel’s antihero, the “son of a spook.” Jay finds himself locked into the cemetery after hours. Here’s how the Pere-Lachaise chase scene begins:

Groping, Jay searched for a tomb big enough to crawl into. He recognized the curving path that led to the grave of Jim Morrison, a hallowed spot scattered with keepsakes and trash left behind by rock ‘n roll pilgrims.
By a bizarre twist of fate James Douglas Morrison had been fished out of a bathtub in Rue Beautrellis on July 3, 1971 and been buried here, in Pere-Lachaise, the repository of France’s great and good. Morrison had become the object of cults. People crawled around his tomb day and night wailing Jim, come back to us…

Here’s another snippet from the novel featuring Morrison:

In a section marked “1971” Jay found the photos he’d taken on July 4th at what he later thought of as the Jim Morrison Memorial Barbecue. The photos showed the farmhouse caretaker at his grill with tongs and a glass of wine, the clotted cream of his complexion darkened now by chemical discoloration. A yellowed International Herald Tribune newspaper clipping showed a series of photos taken in a Paris street. The newspaper’s headline was three inches high. Rock Idol Dies in Paris Bathtub. A group of clean-shaven men in summer suits stood behind the gendarmes. Though partly covered by the eternal beige raincoat, one suit was familiar. Someone a long time ago had circled William Grant with an orange crayon. Jay wondered what kind of expression his father wore as he peered into the bathtub and cursed Jim Morrison, the drugged-out subversive idol. Morrison’s greatest crime turned out to be his inconvenient date of death. July 3rd. How many all-American family barbecues had he ruined?

So, wherever you are, happy death-day, Jim!