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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Walter Satterthwait

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To purchase Masquerade

Title: Masquerade
Author: Walter Satterthwait
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998
Length: 324 pages
Availability: Masquerade - US
Masquerade - UK
Masquerade - Canada
Mascarade - France
Maskeraden - Deutschland
  • The second in the trilogy featuring Phil Beaumont and Jane Turner

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Our Assessment:

B : middling mystery, lightened up by some decent period-color and cameos

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 27/9/1998 Marilyn Stasio

  From the Reviews:
  • "The only way to see Paris is the way that Walter Satterthwait invites us to see it in Masquerade (.....) This offbeat couple handle the sleuthing chores with flair; but for sheer panache, Gertrude Stein and Ledoq walk away with this witty pen-in-cheek adventure." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

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:

       Masquerade finds Pinkerton agents Phil Beaumont and Jane Turner in France in 1923, investigating the apparent hotel room murder-suicide of Richard Forsythe and Sabine von Stuben. Beaumont and Turner's investigations run separately at first, the two long both unaware that the other is on the case, kept in the dark (for no clear reason) by their superior. It's also Jane's "first real 'case' as a Pinkerton operative". As in the previous novel in the series, Escapade, the narrative moves back and forth between chapters narrated by Beaumont and letters sent by Jane to her friend Evangeline.
       Jane's cover is as nanny in a branch of the Forsythe family -- though she has been put in this position with the goal of getting information about a Count De Saintes and his sister -- and she slowly travels towards Paris with them. Beaumont, meanwhile, comes to Paris in his official capacity, accompanied on his investigations there by local contact and fixer Henri Ledoq. It is Richard Forsythe's mother who hired the Pinkerton agency to look into her son's death, and Beaumont dutifully begins by going over the French police's case. It seems fairly cut and dried, as the hotel door was bolted from the inside and Forsythe had been know to talk about wanting to end his life this way.
       But there are some odd bits to the story too. For one, why were they in a hotel room ? And there's the odd fact that the two died more than an hour apart. And then there's a phone call that Forsythe placed that afternoon -- with the desk clerk's record misplaced and the desk clerk, the only one who might have known whom he had called, having since also perished (his death ruled an accident, but without an autopsy having been carried out). Soon, over the course of the investigations, another person Beaumont wants to interview about Forsythe inconveniently also dies before he has a chance to speak with her. And there are quite few other odds and ends that don't seem to add up -- such as the fact that Forsythe had arranged to pick up a portrait of himself and Sabine on the day he died (missing the appointment because he was .... dead).
       Upon his arrival, Beaumont introduces himself to the local police prefect and this LaGrande seems willing to be helpful, including giving him access to the records regarding the cases -- but Beaumont soon realizes LaGrande has charged his underlings with keeping a close eye on him: he and Ledoq are tailed wherever they go (leading to several chase-scenes of sorts, on the (frequent) occasions the duo feel a need to shake their tails). Ledoq does warn Beaumont that: "LaGrande has been corrupt for his entire life" -- and a relationship that the prefect has with one of the women involved with the case is yet another reason the powerful man is keeping a close eye on just what Beaumont might be uncovering.
       Sabine von Stuben is described as having been: "eminently killable". Completely devoted to Forsythe -- "besotted" is the consensus --, it also seems she wasn't quite who she claimed to be -- i.e. hardly nobility -- and that her main reason for being in France was to raise money for an up-and-coming German political organization -- the Nazis .....
       There's lots of interviews Beaumont conducts in trying to learn more about Forsythe and von Stuben, and he finds quite a few people are interested in -- or annoyed by -- what he's doing. Still, as Ledoq sums up at one point, it makes for a decent and reasonably entertaining mystery-investigation:

"Ratiocination, fisticuffs, nighttime dashes through the sewers of Paris. All very stirring." He frowned. "Deaths aside, I mean. And also along the way we have shared a decent meal or two." He shrugged. "Who could ask for more ?"
       But Satterthwait does layer on more -- specifically in the form of cameos by the artistic crowd to be found in 1920s Paris. Ernest Hemingway -- presented as particularly stumbling and bumbling -- repeatedly pops up, while Gertrude Stein's salon is visited (and she, presented as a very sensible woman, takes a more significant role in the resolution of events). There's a glimpse of James Joyce -- and several of his Ulysses -- while Erik Satie tickles the ivories at one point. Some of this is a bit forced -- not least Hemingway's clumsiness -- but mostly it's amusing enough, and adds some knowing fun to the story; Stein, in particular, is well-used. (Beaumont also telegraphs old client Harry Houdini (from Escapade) for some insight as to how the locked part of the locked-room mystery might be explained.)
       Jane's activities are mostly separate from Beaumont's, amusingly enough related in her letters -- a useful change of pace and tone in the narrative. She has some smaller adventures of her own in her nanny-role, and adds some valuable pieces to the bigger picture. And she does get herself an invitation to the culminating masquerade where everything comes to a head. Still, Satterthwait goes out of his way to keep the two Pinkerton operatives separate -- including then for their own safety, once their paths finally do cross -- even as he has Jane keep Beaumont rather prominently in mind and then jealous eye.
       The denouement -- the final reveal, explaining also what happened to Forsythe and von Stuben -- is a decent little twist, but in how it all comes out is also all a bit rushed and crammed, with Beaumont having to high-tail it out of France in quick order, and Jane almost immediately on his heels (ready for their next adventure -- see: Cavalcade, which begins the day after Jane's last letter here).
       All in all it makes for a decent enough read -- more fun for the period color, and local sidekick's Ledoq's insistence on time being taken for life's smaller pleasures, especially good food and wine (which Beaumont doesn't appreciate quite as much), than the actual mystery and investigation, but enjoyable enough, all around. Nothing special, but decent enough entertainment.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 May 2020

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Masquerade: Reviews: Walter Satterthwait: Other books by Walter Satterthwait under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Walter Satterthwait lived 1946 to 2020.

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