In 19th century Paris, Justin Trotter, an immigrant from England, is making his way as a book translator while paying for his blind twin sister’s care. One evening, Marc Noël, Justin’s well-to-do friend and fellow thespian, invites him to a masquerade party at an abandoned schoolhouse. Justin hopes this will be an opportunity to get to know Marc’s lovely though sharp-tongued sister, Francine.
At the event, Justin meets four ghostly strangers—two adults and two children—who warn him that the party guests are in danger, and they must leave at once. True to their prediction, a murder takes place, and Justin is the prime suspect. He escapes and becomes a fugitive, hiding in the Paris catacombs.
Mystery and intrigue swirl as the ghost of Joan of Arc and other martyrs guide Justin on a lonely journey to prove his innocence and protect his sister from an abusive caretaker. Who really committed the crime? Marc? Francine? A ghost? And does seeing these ghosts mean he is going insane? Maybe he really is the murderer after all.
Genre: Adult Mystery
Publisher: Mountain Brook Ink (April 15, 2020)
Page Count: 245 pages
I've had the honor to be able to obtain an advance reader copy of Bryan Davis' new release coming April 15th!
The Plot: This is very different from Mr. Davis's other books and I've read most of them, but knowing him for so long I know this book was a dream for him to write. Les Miserables + Joan of Arc = Happy happy author. First and foremost this is a whodunnit mystery, but with a supernatural twist. Throughout the book, you're trying to put together clues to find out who committed the crime and are praying that somehow the main character will be exonerated from his accusations.
The story has an unusual writing style that is written like the main character is writing it personally. At times he'll back away from the story to give personal notes to his mother whom he's addressing this account to. At the end, the narrative switches to a completely different POV of a character shown earlier in the story that continues with the mystery case role play. This was an immersive technique that reminded me of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.
The Characters: This novel is written in first person and so throughout the majority of the book we're in Justin Trotter's point of view. He's a young immigrant actor trying to make it in the world and he speaks three different languages which is really cool. He also has a sweet relationship with his blind twin sister which is sweet to see. You can’t help but feel bad for him when the world is against him.
Inspector Fortier is a decent person. He’s a good hearted policeman who just wants to do the right thing. I liked Joan of Arc and Michael cause fun historical figures. Joan had to be my favorite. I wasn’t that crazy about the rest of the characters. Partially because I wasn’t supposed to lol. I felt like Justin’s supposed friend Marc was awfully quick to think his flat mate was a murderer. He was a crappy friend if you ask me. As with most of Mr. Davis’s books the characters are very self aware which can be refreshing at times and a little clunky at others.
The Setting: This is Victorian-era Paris so we get parties, mansions, carriages, graveyards, and catacombs. Mr. Davis really captured the era.
As the title suggests there is also a strong supernatural element. Ghosts can be seen by people who’ve witnessed traumatic events, these particular ghosts are given a bit more time on earth to save their persecutors from judgments, and there are also magic rings and amulets.
Epic Things: Ghosts of martyrs is a really cool concept. Also no matter how many times it’s done stuff written out in blood always gives me the shivers—in a good way haha.
The Theme: There is a theme of blindness not just physical but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Being blind to truth and righteousness particularly.
Content Cautions: This is a murder mystery and several people are kiled in various ways including hanging, being stabbed by a poker (mentioned as brutalized with significant blood), poison, gunshot wounds, drowning, and being burned to death (described with melting skin). A dog is mentioned to have been poisoned, a character threatens to castrate another, a person is beheaded (splash of blood and the body and head separately being moved is mentioned, no graphic detail), there are mentions of rape and accusations of incestuous rape, and two people are naked together to stay warm.
What We Can Take Away For Our Writing:
1.) Ghosts Having a Sort of Finite Mortality - The problem about caring about the wellbeing of ghosts is they’re dead. They can’t be killed and they can live forever so they don’t die. In this story world ghosts have a time limit imposed on them shown by their candles or lanterns. They can only be on earth so long.
How this can be applied to writing: There are so many creative ways to give rules for ghosts. Many are done but there are still more to explore as shown in this story!
2.) Using an Interrogation to Convey Information - Near the beginning of the book Inspector Fortier interrogates Justin and in doing so some information about Justin’s backstory is revealed in a natural way.
How this can be applied to writing: Giving exposition naturally is difficult but if you have a crime story this is a great way to do it.
Conclusion: This is one of my favorite works of Mr. Davis. Four inukshuks!
About the Author: Bryan Davis is the author of the following young adult fantasy series: Dragons in our Midst, Oracles of Fire, Echoes from the Edge, and Dragons of Starlight. He also wrote I Know Why the Angels dance, a contemporary novel for adults.
After laboring as a computer geek for 20 years, Bryan followed a dream to become an author. He began by writing a story to motivate his seven children to gain some excitement about writing, and that story grew into a novel. After spending the next eight years learning the craft and enduring more than 200 rejections from publishers and agents, he broke through with his best-selling series Dragons in our Midst. He is now a full-time author and lives with his wife, Susie, and their children in western Tennessee.
You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and his website! I also have an interview with him I had on the blog!
I've reviewed several other books by this author: