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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Paris Enigma

Pablo De Santis

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To purchase The Paris Enigma

Title: The Paris Enigma
Author: Pablo De Santis
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 244 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Paris Enigma - US
El enigma de París - US
The Paris Enigma - UK
The Paris Enigma - Canada
Le cercle des douze - France
Das Rätsel von Paris - Deutschland
  • Spanish title: El enigma de París
  • Translated by Mara Lethem

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing, but a tad too metaphysical

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Australian . 7/3/2009 Jose Borghino
NZZ . 31/3/2010 Leopold Federmair
TLS . 27/3/2009 Robert Potts
Wall St. Journal . 15/11/2008 Victorino Matus

  From the Reviews:
  • "The thing about a whodunit is that the whydunit is almost as important. In The Paris Enigma the why of the case is both obvious and disappointing, since the reader has dismissed it early on in the face of an overwhelming torrent of plot devices, false leads and the shoals of red herrings that swim past. There is simply too much information here to make an appealing thriller." - Jose Borghino, The Australian

  • "Das Rätsel von Paris bietet im Wesentlichen drei detektivische Überzeugungen, die in Konkurrenz treten, sich fallweise aber auch ergänzen und überschneiden." - Leopold Federmair, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Beneath the cartoonish romps and the occasional windy discussions about the art of detection, a more pathos-laden subtext emerges: the displacement of magic by science, of brotherhood by bureaucracy." - Robert Potts, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The Paris Enigma is a tightly spun thriller and a quick read, thanks to the able translation by Mara Lethem. Mr. De Santis effortlessly incorporates important historical events (the building of the tower and the World's Fair) into his narrative, as well as capturing the turn-of-the-century uneasiness over the emergence of the machine age. And while the reader may have an idea of the suspect's identity well before the mystery is solved, it's the motive that will keep the guessing lively until the end" - Victorino Matus, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Paris Enigma is narrated by Sigmundo Salvatrio, the son of a cobbler. His own career-path began when he saw an ad in a Buenos Aires newspaper in 1888, the famous (and only) local detective Renato Craig willing to share his knowledge and teach a select group of young men his trade. Salvatrio is among the chosen few, and begins to learn from this man who is one of 'The Twelve' -- The Twelve Detectives, "a group of the most elite detectives in the world". Salvatrio -- and all the others -- all hope to be chosen as Craig's acolyte at the end of their training. The early frontrunner for the position seems to be much better than the rest, but he gets himself murdered -- leading to Craig's 'last case', in which he proves the guilt of the person responsible.
       For Craig -- indeed, for all The Twelve -- it is all about the subtle art of detection. They go into raptures reminiscing about finding: "so much symmetry, such balance in those crimes ... They were clear, elegant, without so much as one extra drop of blood", and it is the perfection of the puzzle rather than the grimy reasons behind it that appeal to them. Hence:

The locked room is the essence of our work. It doesn't matter if the room doesn't actually exist. We must accept its metaphorical power.
       Craig lets Salvatrio in on how he solved his 'last case', and that certainly makes an impression on the young would-be acolyte; surprisingly, it does not completely disillusion him. Craig obviously has some faith in him, and selects him to go to Paris, where The Twelve are to meet at the World's Fair, in his stead. It was to be the first time they were all to be assembled together, but Craig is in no condition to travel (or work as a detective any longer).
       The other detectives, from a variety of countries, all have their various acolytes, making for a very colourful cast of characters. Looming over everything is the brand new Eiffel Tower, the centrepiece of the fair, on which the finishing touches are still being made. Naturally, soon enough, there is murder.
       Salvatrio gets to help out on the case, which sees some of the various secrets and jealousies of The Twelve revealed. Along the way, there's also lots of talk of other cases -- after all:
we need a bit of leisure, after-dinner chats. We are professionals, but there is no detective that isn't also a bit of a dilettante. we are travelers, driven by the winds of coincidence and distraction to the locked room that hides the crime.
       These grand pronouncements, and the focus on the elegance of solutions, make for an odd tone to the book, giving it the feel of an almost entirely cerebral thriller even as rather messy and mundane crimes occur. The Twelve seem largely abstract thinkers -- and Salvatrio is drawn to that too -- even as everyone else gets their hands dirty. But, as Craig's 'last crime' already suggested early on, even the detectives can't stick solely to clever speculation, no matter how clever it is.
       There are many enjoyable little puzzles and neatly solved crimes in The Paris Enigma, but it is a sprawling, crowded book, with Salvatrio skipping and skimming a bit too lightly across it all. There are always very many others involved, which proves distracting, and Salvatrio isn't a strong enough personality to prevent interest from constantly drifting elsewhere. De Santis' focus on the almost metaphysical aspects of the crimes has its appeal but is also not entirely successful; The Twelve would have had to be drawn much more fully for all of that to really work.
       The Paris Enigma ultimately feels more like a crowded sketch than a full novel. It has considerable appeal, but isn't completely satisfying.

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The Paris Enigma: Reviews: Other books by Pablo De Santis under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentinian author Pablo De Santis was born in 1963.

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© 2008-2021 the complete review

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