An amorous axiom: Paris equals passion.
Great scenery, great food, great wine.
And those words. There’s a reason they call French a “Romance Language.”
Vive la différence: Each novel in my series centered around crime novelist and globetrotting screenwriter Hector Lassiter has endeavored to be markedly different from the one that precedes it and from the installment that follows.
Despite the various personal creative challenges I set for myself as its author, there is one element that has remained consistent throughout the Lassiter series.
Hector is, from book to book, confronted by formidable women who leave sometimes dark but always lasting marks on his psyche and soul. Simply put, women run this man’s life.
After entangling Hector with three lovers ranging the spectrum from light to very dark, it seemed appropriate in the middle range of Hector’s saga to introduce the woman who truly made Hector into Hector. The time seemed ripe, in essence, to reveal Hector’s first great love.
My central aim in One True Sentence was to depict the romantic figure in Hector’s storied life. I aimed to portray the woman who most profoundly shaped Hector Lassiter as a lover, as writer and as the shades-of-gray heroic figure readers had come to know in the previous three novels.
Having early established Hector as “The Last Man Standing of the Lost Generation” and as a friend and contemporary of Ernest Hemingway, it was also high time to fully explore a heady period in Hector’s life alluded to—and in the previous novel, Print the Legend, briefly depicted—Hector’s apprenticeship as an aspiring literary writer in the City of Lights, circa 1924.
OTS is number four in series of eight literary thrillers, this one set during one week in February, 1924, in Paris.
In the novel, we see a 24-year-old Hector Lassiter, and his friend, Ernest Hemingway—both not yet known as the authors they will become—living and moving along the Left Bank of the Seine, primarily in the area known as Montparnasse. That’s where all those great writers of the 1920s more or less were based. The photographers, the painters...those wicked surrealists that inform the second Lassiter novel, Toros & Torsos, which also briefly touches base in Paris.
It’s where the famous cafés in which they wrote, drank and talked are centered—La Rotonde, Le Select, Le Dôme and La Coupole and Hemingway’s own favored café, a bit of walk from those other four, La Closerie des Lilas.
Hector went to 1920s Paris dreaming of becoming a literary writer. He emerged a crime novelist and sometimes screenwriter compelled to apologize for his work to his literary friends who people my novels: Hemingway, John Dos Passos, William Carlos Williams…Gertrude Stein.
One True Sentence is the novel in which Stein and Hemingway cast their longest shadows. OTS is a re-imagination of Ernest Hemingway’s 1920s Paris memoir A Moveable Feast as a historical thriller.
The murders of literary magazine publishers plague the Left Bank; Stein gathers the city’s foremost mystery writers in an effort to identify and catch the killer.
Stein, the Modernist grand dame of 1920s Paris—the one who coined the phrase “Lost Generation” and an avant-garde experimenter in prose whose writings remain opaque or even unreadable to even the most patient of readers—was, in fact, an avid fan of mystery fiction. Stein affectionately dubbed favorite crime fiction authors her “mystifiers.” She contended the mystery novel was “the only really modern novel form.” In terms of the literary circles Stein trucked in, her guilty pleasure reads were…unconventional.
So very Modern: in France, in the Twenties for some American expatriates, it seemed only degrees of conventionality were sufficiently unconventional.
In the erotically and artistically charged milieu of 1920s Paris, Hector meets the enticing and mysterious mystery writer Brinke Devlin, a dark-haired, dark-eyed lusty enigma who rocks Hector’s world not just in this novel, but across the balance of his life.
And there are other women in OTS who equally drive the narrative and young Hector’s life—from the formidable and imperious Stein, to a British mystery writer specializing in “locked room mysteries,” and a passionate young poetess with her own dangerous secrets and amorous designs on Hector.
Always, as a swooning backdrop to the novel, there is Paris.
I fell in love with Hemingway’s version of Paris as a young man upon a first reading of A Moveable Feast. In my naïve early 20s, I nursed this notion of running off to the City of Lights and living Hemingway’s memoir. Never mind the fact Hemingway had an exchange rate in his favor that has never again been equaled in history. Never mind the fact I then spoke little more French than ala mode.
A few weeks after the novel was released in the States, I was walking the streets Hector Lassiter and Ernest Hemingway walked in Paris. In a kind of post-modern turn, I found myself using my own novel as a sort of guidebook for morning and evening tours of the Latin Quarter and Left Bank between interviews my French publisher had scheduled for me in the City of Light.
If I turned left out my hotel door and walked to the corner, I was just yards from the Rotonde, the Select and the Coupole—all those cafés Hector and Hem would sit inside during the winter, or on the terrace if it was warmer, watching the street traffic.
If I turned right out my hotel door, in a very few yards, the street terminated at rue Notre Dame des Champs. That’s the street that Hemingway lived on in 1924, shortly after returning to France after a brief and disastrous return to journalism in Toronto, awaiting the birth of his first son. It’s the street where Ezra Pound maintained (a seldom used) studio.
Turning left onto the rue Notre Dame des Champs takes one to La Rue Vavin—the street upon which Hector lived in Paris, near the Jardins de Luxembourg.
|Me, outside Hem's first|
A short walk from the other side of the gardens one finds 74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, where Hem and first wife Hadley lived for many of Hem’s formative writing years in Paris. It was from that location he would leave on European assignments as a correspondent for newspapers back in Canada and the States.
It’s a long time since the 1920s’ Paris that Hem and Hector would have known. A hell of a lot of water has coursed under all those picturesque bridges that join the banks of Paris.
Yet the city, they claim, is ageless in her way. She remains the place that unfailingly evokes Romance with a capital “R.”
An old line has it that Paris, like an enticing woman, “Will kiss you, or kill you but never bore you.”
As an older Hem wrote of Paris in a magazine article long after he’d left her, “She is like a mistress who does not grow old and she has other lovers now…she is always the same age and she always has new lovers.”
NEXT: Gertrude Stein & Ernest Hemingway: Mystery Fans