Chris Ewan's protagonist Charlie Howard - the crime caper author who writes about a burglar, but who is also a burglar in his non-writing time - is back. After a bit of a "do" in Amsterdam involving the theft of three monkeys (of the dust-collecting variety and not live), Charlie is now in Paris, working on his next novel and about to do a book signing. Where some authors may simply pray that people turn up for such an event, this could be their own customised Aesop's fable. It's the book signing that starts the stream of events that causes Charlie a bit of a challenging time in Paris.
A fan seeks a personal book dedication and then persuades Charlie to provide him with a paid tutorial on breaking-in. No worries: it's the fan's own apartment, he says. It's achieved satisfactorily and Charlie is paid for his services. But the following day things go a little bit more than belly-up when Charlie's fence in Paris asks him to break into an apartment to steal a non-entity of a piece of art. It proves to be the same apartment as the previous night. Charlie is now on a trail in which he has to look after his own back and work out who is bluffing whom in a plot that involves art and museums and of course, a few nasty pieces of work in human form.
Victoria, Charlie's literary agent is also on his case and closer than he imagines. And he didn't provide an exact picture of himself for his book jackets when it comes to the (ah, finally) "face to face" meeting…
On the surface, Charlie is someone with a nonchalance for life exhibited by his humour in all situations. But beneath that, and subject to his early-onset arthritis, he has a core of steel, keen intellect and a motivation for making money to ensure that he remains independent, at the very least.
So, with Paris, we can expect humour as with Amsterdam, and the novel is written from that perspective. When Ewan goes into descriptive narrative within Charlie's head, he often comes up trumps and here's an example:
'… The figure was dressed all in black: black leather boots, faded black jeans and a ribbed black vest top. I glimpsed the vaguest swell of breasts beneath the material of the vest and a delicate gold bracelet on her wrist. Her hair was unbrushed and had very possibly gone unwashed for as long as the carpet. Auburn in colour, it was more like a tangled mane really. She wore no make-up and her face was deeply lined with a maze-like network of wrinkles and creases. She appeared unhealthily thin and because her clothes and her jeans in particular were very tight, she reminded me somewhat of a lion tamer minus the whip. At a guess, I thought she was pushing seventy. Then she spoke again and I registered her deep, growling baritone of a voice and added a few more years.'
Ewan, again creates a pace with humour over the telling of a mystery; and when it comes to plotting, like bedroom linens, before you know it and if you seek quality, there's a very dense set of threads setting up the dénouement. Ewan's at least a 220 threads per square inch, plucking in all sorts of fibres before resolution in Paris. Then you can soundly sleep on your own 220, knowing that you don't have to face what Charlie does, and after praying for Victoria's ongoing safety.
[Note on publication:
1. The first cover featured relates to the US edition from St Martin’s Minotaur, available now.
2. The second cover featured relates to a UK edition from Long Barn Books, in trade PB, which will be available from Feb 09, in the UK.
3. A third edition of this novel (in PB) will be available in the UK later in the year from Simon and Schuster.]