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By Eric Zencey

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Format: Paperback, 375 pages
Published In: United Kingdom, 18 July 1996
On a visit to Paris in 1892, American historian Henry Adams befriends a young woman who then vanishes. He follows her trail through the city's seamier reaches and into the corrupt heart of the Panama Canal scandal. This novel is a combination of history and fiction.

About the Author

Eric Zencey is a professor of history at Goddard College in Vermont and is a contributing editor of North American Review.


In 1892, Henry Adams, distinguished historian and descendant of two presidents, is in Paris, where he finds himself embroiled in several mysteries: a charming woman attracts him on the beach, then disappears and is, or isn't, killed. Jacques de Reinach, a major figure in the failed French effort to build a Panama canal, dies by suicide or murder. An American senator's wife seems to be trying to change her longstanding relationship with Adams from friendship to something else. A trusted friend is hiding knowledge of a dead woman. Adams is drawn into an intrigue of scandal, bribery, murder, corruption, and sex. He can't resist searching for the missing woman. Along the way he, and we, learn a lot about French politics, the nature of history and experience, love, loss, and forensic science. This outstanding first novel is highly recommended for its intelligence, characterization, suspense, and setting. [A BOMC and Quality Paperback selection.]-Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

This is that extremely rare find, a first novel that is not only extremely accomplished but also quite unlike anything else. It daringly places a real person‘American historian and philosopher Henry Adams‘into a historic situation‘the scandal in 1892 Paris over the corrupt collapse of the grand Panama Canal plan‘and makes of it a dashing, sometimes touching and, yes, thoughtful thriller. Adams is sketched quickly and deftly: enterprising, sensitive, observant, still mourning the suicide of his wife years earlier, half in love with beautiful Elizabeth Cameron. We see him briefly in Panama, stealing a picture that will come to be significant; at Mont Saint-Michel and Chartres (naturally), where he is much taken with a young American painter, Miriam, who seems like a new breath in his life, and to whom he becomes quickly, quixotically attached; finally in Paris, where Miriam instantly disappears, is perhaps dead. At once, Adams begins to search for her, becoming involved with Parisian police, including a fledgling fingerprint expert and his young nephew; a coroner is killed, a macabre gift arrives for Adams via a pneumatique and the political plot around the Panama scandal, which could bring down a government and create a new one, thickens. At the heart of it all, Adams barges ahead like a gallant detective with the mind of an aesthete; through his eyes Paris, on the brink of the modern age, has never seemed stranger or more alluring, its people more enigmatic. That Zencey can create a headlong read, with a piercing climax and a poignant final note, out of such esoteric material is almost miraculous. A wonderful debut. 100,000 first printing; BOMC and QPB selections. (Sept.)

EAN: 9780340657225
ISBN: 0340657227
Publisher: Sceptre
Dimensions: 2.2 x 12.8 x 19.8 centimetres (0.36 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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