Friday, September 9, 2016

Letters From Paris, by Juliet Blackwell

Berkley Publishing Group

Claire "Chance" Broussard returns home from Chicago to Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana because her grandmother, her beloved Mammaw, is dying. It's her grandmother and her Uncle Remy who raised her after her mother died in a car accident and her father proved unfit as a parent. Chance never felt she fit in with all her cousins, but studied, worked, and escaped, first to college and then to life in the software industry in Chicago.

Now she's back, remembering her past, asking questions, and wondering why neither Chicago nor Plaquemines Parish feels like "home."

And then she finds a treasure from her past, a mask of a beautiful woman that her great-grandfather sent to her great-grandmother from Paris at the end of World War II. As a child, she hid in the attic and talked to that mask. Now she talks to Mammaw about it, and about the odd letter, torn in half, that was apparently used as part of the packing materials. There are no names, but it includes the plaintive line, "He will never let me go alive."

After her grandmother's death, Chance goes to Paris, looking for the secret of the mask, and for a family secret Mammaw hinted she'll find there.

The mask is a woman known only as L'Inconnue, "the unknown woman," and her mask is famous and popular--and still unknown. Chance finds she doesn't much care for being a tourist in Paris, but as she  gets to know the descendants of the Lombardi family, the maskmakers who made the L'Inconnue mask, she finds he quite likes living in Paris. She takes a job working in their shop, mainly as a translator at first because Armand hates dealing with tourists--his main customers--and his cousin Giselle doesn't speak English. Armand is grumpy, remote, and surrounded by a mystery of his own. The previous translator, who quit abruptly, is also American, and is as grumpy and remote as Armand when Chance brings her some mail.

In alternate chapters, we get Chance's story in modern-day Paris, the real story of L'Inconnue in the Paris of the late 1890s, and even a glimpse of Chance's great-grandfather's visit to the maskmakers's shop in 1945. It's a slow, fascinating, and ultimately satisfying unfolding of both romance and family secrets.

Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.