The Paris Enigma by Pablo de Santis

My name is Sigmundo Salvatrio. My father came to Buenos Aires from a town north of Genoa and made his living as a cobbler. […] Today, people in my profession view my method for classifying fingerprints (the Salvatrio method) with high regard—I owe that crime-solving innovation to the many hours I spent among the lasts and soles that filled our shop. I came to realize that detectives and shoemakers see the world from beneath, both focusing more on the footsteps that have strayed away from their intended path than the path itself.

It is 1889, and the entire world breathlessly anticipates the Paris World’s Fair and the opening of Monsieur Eiffel’s iconic tower. The Twelve Detectives—a society of the twelve most famous, compelling, and dazzling detectives from around the world—have been asked to discuss the secrets of their trade as part of the fair’s lineup of events. The Twelve travel to Paris to convene as a single body for the first time, but also, if some whispers are to be believed, to debate the very philosophy that underlies their pursuit of the world’s most wanted criminals. And they are recruiting!

Sigmundo decides to apply to become an assistant and during his lonely time, he can see himself being a full-fledged detective

I had no hope of becoming a detective; just being an assistant was a goal worthy of my concerted efforts. But at night, alone in my room, I imagined myself aloof, ironic, and pure, making my way, like beneath the false leads, beyond the distractions and the blind gaze of habit.

He does get the job and then he starts studying the secrets of detective-work under Craig. I started losing interest by now as it felt like I was reading the diary of a 13-year old who met his favourite person in the world but I decided to stick by it until he at least moved from Argentina to Paris. I had a hard time caring enough about the different detectives and their assistants to differentiate them, and the plot was equally un-compelling.

We repeated the names as if we were memorizing them, as if we were studying a particularly difficult lesson. The most famous detectives in Buenos Aires— The Key to Crime always published stories of their adventures—were Magrelli, also known as the Eye of Rome, the Englishman Caleb Lawson, and the German Tobias Hatter, a native of Nuremberg. The magazine often reported the frequent conflicts between the two men who both wanted the title of Detective of Paris: the veteran Louis Darbon, who considered himself the heir to Vidocq, and Viktor Arzaky, a Pole and Craig’s good friend, who had settled in France. Even though his cases weren’t published very often, the Athenian detective, Madorakis, was one of my favorites. The way he solved crimes made it seem that he wasn’t just accusing one particular criminal, but the entire human race.

Murder, here, fake murder there, another real murder a few chapters later; a pretty, mean girl for obligatory romantic interest (yawn); and some references to secret society that I basically just glazed over while reading about.

The book becomes so boring that I started skipping over pages which seem to only contain references to other people. Here’s what I mean:

Magrelli’s father was a Roman policeman. Zagala grew up in a fishing village and his mother died in a famous storm that destroyed half the ships in port. Castelvetia gave himself a title, but it’s fake. The Hatter family used to own a small press in Nuremberg; they printed commercial stationery and wedding invitations. The others I can’t recall, I don’t know them as well, but I can assure you that Madorakis isn’t the heir to the Greek throne, and that good old Novarius used to hawk newspapers on the street. And as for me, I’m a bastard.”

The writing is so dry that it actually made me thirsty throughout. There was nothing terribly bad about the book, but there was also nothing to draw me in either. It left me pretty cold.

1/5 This is going into the Charity Pile.

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