Much more than a book about crime in turn-of-the-20th-century Paris, The Crimes of Paris by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler (New York: Little Brown and Company, 2009) is an absorbing cultural and social history about the City of Light during the period known as the Belle Epoque. In careful prose, the authors describe a number of important discoveries and achievements in science, technology, art, and literature, and recount the impact that these new forces had on those who lived during this era. As suggested by the book’s cover, murder, theft, and detection form the basis around which the authors weave their narrative, but they also develop other themes, including the public’s fascination with crime and with criminals who triumph over the forces of law and public order.
Readers who seek a good crime story that builds to a climactic denouement might feel frustrated with the seemingly deliberate, uneven manner by which the narrative unfolds. However, for those who have the patience to read through the chapters, their reward will be keen insight into the spirit of the age, before that world was swept away with the onslaught of WWI.