One piece of writing advice offered by Stephen King tells us to combine two unexpected, seemingly unrelated, concepts. He did this in Carrie, when he paired up telekinesis with the hell that can be high school. Never mind that the manuscript was rejected 30 times…let’s focus on how that debut novel changed the way many of us view storytelling.
When Charles Belfoure built the foundation for The Paris Architect, he certainly followed this vein.
As a person who knows little about architecture, I find it hard to imagine coupling it with anything other than perfunctory-type notions…after all, what conflicts with, and would therefore complement, the spatial elements of structural and artistic design? Well, I thought maybe I found the answer in Loving Frank, a novel based on the Frank Lloyd Wright’s long-time affair with his mistress, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Architecture and romance: Unexpected, right? Yes, but not quite right.
Belfoure, however, got it oh-so-right.
His combo? Architecture and suspense.
For the love of all that is magnificent, who knew?
This novel, set in 1942 German-occupied Paris, follows a Parisian architect, Lucien Bernard, who is so flattered by the commissioning of his work during a time when most Parisians fear for their lives and subsist on bare rations that he agrees to design buildings for the manufacture of German armaments, despite accusations of being a conspirator.
This is only a slice of the story, though. What got him involved in this mess lies at the root of a tale filled with twists that captivate without confounding the plot. At first, he is reluctant to design hiding places for Jews in Paris homes and apartments, vowing over and over that each design will be his last; until he finds himself involved to the point that his fear for his own life becomes subordinate to other discoveries he makes about himself and what will become his mission.
The character development in The Paris Architect is superb. Not only do we get gratifying journeys through the minds and hearts of a number of characters, we see the real-time evolution of relationships and philosophical ideals. The emotional attachment developed with these characters is rich.
And I can’t forget the suspense. Belfoure knows how to keep you on edge, virtually experiencing the torture and death of so many innocents through your own mind’s eye. You can’t help but transport yourself to war-time France, to ask yourself with the completion of every paragraph, with the anticipatory turn of every page…what would I do?
I celebrate the day I picked up this book at the suggestion of a librarian. Congratuations, Charles Belfoure. You have handily entertained and stirred the heart of a hard-to-please reader. You have not only packaged an unexpected combination into a brilliant demonstration of character development, pacing and setting, you have captured this historical fiction lover’s heart.