Cover image for Murder in Montparnasse
Murder in Montparnasse
Engel, Howard, 1931-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Woodstock [N.Y.] : Overlook Press, 1999.

Physical Description:
300 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
FICTION Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



It's autumn 1925, and a killer uncannily like England's Jack the Ripper is stalking the city streets of Paris and preying on young women. Michael Ward is a journalist newly arrived to the Left Bank. When he falls in with Jason Waddington, an expatriate American writer who introduces him to the cafe scene and his crowd of writers and artists, Ward soon discovers that Jack de Paris is not the only trouble afoot in the City of Light. Rumor has it that Waddington has written a damaging roman a clef about his friends, and tempers are rising even as fear of the killer grips the city. When the body of Laure Duclos is found, it seems their circle has finally been touched by Jack. But Ward has his doubts and begins to wonder whether Laure was truly Jack de Paris's latest victim, or if someone else was using the serial killer as a convenient cover to protect themselves.

In a feat of literature reminiscent of Caleb Carr's The Alienist, Howard Engel blends intriguing historical fact with nail-biting fiction to produce a thriller of the highest order. Murder in Montparnasse will delight both new readers of Engel and his long-time fans.

Author Notes

Howard Engel was born on April 2, 1931; he is a Canadian mystery writer, author of the Benny Cooperman Mysteries. He has won numerous awards thanks to his literary works, such as the Arthur Ellis Award for Crime Fiction and the Crime Writers of Canada Derick Murdoch Award. In 2013, Engel received a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The Lost Generation has never been quite so Found. Prompted perhaps by the Hemingway centenary, the whole Montparnasse gang has been popping up as fictional characters in all variety of stories, particularly mysteries. Following Walter Satterthwait's enjoyable frolic, Masquerade [BKL Ag 98], in which Hemingway, Stein, and others decorated a period mystery, comes veteran genre author Engel's variation on the theme. Upping the ante on Satterthwait, Engel combines the usual real-life Lost Generation crew with characters from The Sun Also Rises (Lady Brett, Robert Cohn, et al.) and mixes in a juicy plot involving a Parisian version of Jack the Ripper (Jack de Paris) and a hypothetical answer to the real question of what happened to Hemingway's lost manuscripts. Most of the real-life characters have different names, but anyone who passed Am Lit 101 should have little trouble identifying the principals. It's all a bit silly but certainly good fun, and if the nominal hero of the tale, Toronto Star correspondent Michael Ward, is so naive-yet-willing-to-learn it makes your teeth hurt, we're more than happy to endure the pain for a chance to share a Pernod with old friends. --Bill Ott

Publisher's Weekly Review

Taking a break from his Benny Cooperman mysteries, Engel (Getting Away with Murder) presents a Parisian mystery involving cafes, romance, murder and lots of wine. In the fall of 1925, Canadian journalist Mike Ward arrives in the City of Light in search of the literary life. Soon he meets Jason Waddington, an expat American writer, and is lured into his circle of fashionable authors, painters, editors and socialites. Among them is the breathtaking Laure Duclos, a "teacher of French"; despite warnings from his friends that "she's poison," Ward is hooked after one look. Their affair is short-lived, however, since Laure is soon murdered, apparently by the notorious Jack de Paris, a serial killer with a penchant for stabbing beautiful women. Ward suspects someone has used Jack as cover to do away with Laure, however, and determines to find the real murderer. Meanwhile, cafe gossip insinuates that Waddington's current manuscript is a character-defaming expos‚ about his friends. Engel relies heavily on dialogue to push forward his plot, with plenty of intoxicated cafe talk thrown in, and his characters should please fans of the era: Waddington bears a pointed resemblance to Hemingway, and many other players are loosely based on notable writers or their famous fictional creations. Engel's descriptions of Paris in the '20s are charming, adding to the fun of the gambol he provides through the Left Bank and its denizens. Agent, Beverly Slopen. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Engel, well known for his Benny Cooperman series, here tries his hand at historical fiction. Canadian Michael Ward, a recent arrival in 1925 Paris, works for a news service agency, translating from French to English. He pals around with an expatriate American couple and their friends, but the threat of a serial murderer, known as the "Jack of Paris," spreads a pall over their historic neighborhood. When one of their group is killed, Michael wonders whether there might be some connection to the expatriate's disturbing roman … clef. Chilling prose, infused with ambient vitality, historic tidbits, and exotic Paris; highly recommended. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One I first ran across him walking along the quays. We were both looking over the books in the stalls along the embankment and both of us reached for the same copy of The Green Hat by Michael Arlen. When he realized that we weren't going to get anywhere tugging, he shot me that wonderful grin of his, with the right side of his mouth pulled up so high his moustache hung lopsided under his nose.     "You take it," he said, suddenly letting go. "Arlen's not my meat anyway."     "I was just going to check the price," I said, opening the cover. "Sixty francs."     "It's only been out a year, but it's still too much."     "I thought this was where you could pick up bargains."     "Oh, you can, but you have to know which stall to deal at. You have to study out the land, get to know your man. This fellow speaks a little English, so you can't fool him. You're not English, are you? I can tell you're not American."     "Canadian," I admitted, "and newly arrived."     "Well! I used to live in Toronto. Canada's a second home for me. Used to box at the Mutual Arena."     "So, you're a fighter who reads Michael Arlen?"     "Retired professional. I nearly lost the sight in this eye from a middleweight's thumb. The thumb was heavyweight." He indicated his left eye with his own thumb. "What's your name?"     "Michael Ward, but people call me Mike. I come from Toronto too, as a matter of fact."     "Wonderful! This calls for a drink! Have you any objections to a demi-blonde before the sun hits the yardarm?"     "None whatever. The morning's growing hot. What's your name? I'm guessing that you're an American. Canadians are generally more stand-offish, as you no doubt discovered in the Queen City."     " Je m'appelle Jason Waddington," he said, giving the names a twist of his deep voice as though he thought of himself in italics or quotation marks. "You may call me Wad, if you like. I get called all kinds of things but never Jason. I will tell you only once."     I replaced the Michael Arlen on the pile where I'd found it and tried not to look at the vendor's face as the two of us moved off to the left, with the east end of Notre Dame looming up over the chestnut trees. I followed him across the cobblestones to a small café that looked out on the river. He ordered the beers and we watched a group of bouquinistes , second-hand booksellers, talking together, no doubt cursing the slack season. When the beer came, Wad looked at the beads of moisture as they formed around both glasses, clouding the amber beer within. There was an intensity about the way he watched things. When he was doing one thing, you couldn't mistake him for doing another, although he surprised me sometimes. I can remember him carrying on an argument with a friend about bullfighting, I think -- he was often talking about bullfighting -- and then giving me hell for saying something in a conversation I was having with somebody at my end of the table. That was when I knew him better.     Anyway, this first meeting went off without a shadow of all that. He told me about a couple of his Toronto fights, and I told him that I had just started work at one of the news service agencies.     "Oh," he said, "so you're a writer?" His forehead furrowed unexpectedly. I felt as though I'd just admitted to having a social disease. A mild case.     "What I do isn't writing," I said. "I translate stories clipped from the French papers."     "You'll have to do more than translate. French news style buries the lead in the last paragraph. You have to rebuild every story from the ground up. You'll take a while to get onto it."     "For a retired professional fighter, you know quite a lot about writing cables."     "Hell, I've got a family to support! I can't get a fight over here, except some club dates at the American Club. I've been sending stuff to the Toronto Star ."     "Of course! You're that J. Miller Waddington! Greg Clark told me to watch out for you. He said you'd gone off to Paris to write the Great American Novel!"     "How is Greg? We used to go fishing for trout up on the Mad River. He's a great little bantam rooster. You worked at the Star too, did you?"     "I put in a few months until I had a run-in with the editor."     "Harry Comfort Hindmarsh!" Waddington grabbed my hand and shook it. "I'm glad I ran into you, Mike Ward. How's Jimmy Frise? He and Clark -- Mutt and Jeff. What a pair!" Wad finished his beer and sat back in his chair so that it balanced on its hind legs. In a minute he had pulled over a chair for each of his large feet. He began telling me about growing up on the North Side of Chicago on the wrong side of the tracks and getting into the fight game in Waukegan, a tough town where the local boy doesn't like to lose. "That's where my left eye met its Waterloo," he said. By the time the waiter brought another two glasses, Wad had commandeered a chair for each of his arms.     " Monsieur ," the waiter said somewhat sharply. " Vous n'êtes pas tout seul ici, monsieur. Il y a des autres ." Wad sat up and the waiter restored the chairs to their original tables. An angry look followed the waiter out of sight.     "When I was in Turkey, everybody sat that way. The French, I think, are at least 50 percent Presbyterian. They are so worried about good form. Really, they only care about money. Money and British royalty."     Jason Waddington was a big man, at least a six-footer, with a ready grin and intense brown eyes. When he smiled, he looked like a boy dressed up in a man's suit. I thought he was in his twenties, as I was -- although I was sure he was a few years older than me, and he was thickening out. Maybe it was the beer and maybe it was muscle, if what he said about being a boxer was true. He didn't move like a boxer, though. In fact, with his big feet, he was a bit of a stumbler, missing the curb up to the sidewalk, and -- as I discovered later -- always showing a cut or a bruise on his head from some low doorway. Looking like a lazy panther, he drained his second glass.     "Well?" he said.     "Well, what?"     "You want to put the gloves on?"     "Of course not. You're a professional. I've never done any real fighting. Not since school. Three fights, lost all of them. How's your tennis?"     "I play a little."     "Ah!" I said, finishing my own beer, which left a bitter after-taste in my mouth.     "Ah, what?"     "Whenever someone says he plays a little, I get ready to lose a few sets. Where do you play in this town?" I was beginning to relax and take my surroundings for granted. It felt good.     "There's a gym in the basement of the American Club. There are a couple of good outdoor courts too. If the weather holds, we can have a few weeks of playing outside. I haven't delivered my quota of newly arrived Canadians this month."     "I'll leave a letter with my bank about where I'm going. I've heard about your sort." He laughed and we got up. I paid for the drinks, while Wad protested that he would get them next time. From the look of his shoes and the worn elbows of his tweed jacket, I had my doubts.     Together we walked along the quays, keeping the river on our right, letting the big church slide by. There were a few drifts of fallen leaves caught against the embankment. It would be pretty to say that the river caught the blue of the autumn sky and reflected it, but the fact is the river ignored the sky and gave us something brown does to green even in summer. Wad led the way across St-Michel and down a narrow street of shops leading away from the river. There were small antique shops and dusty places selling tassels and flounces for decorators. We looked into the windows of the antique dealers, filled with armoires, sconces, candelabra, corner cupboards and weather vanes. I fancied a fine copper coq , a girouette that had turned green in the wind at the top of some weathered country church or château.     "I wouldn't mind taking that back to Toronto with me," I said. "How old do you think it is? Twelfth century? Thirteenth?"     "I know the painter who made it," Wad said. "You can ask him yourself when you meet him."     "You seem to know your way around, Wad."     "I know the Quarter. I've been here since the war."     "Except for your time in Toronto," I added, wanting to believe him.     "Sure," he said. "Except for Toronto." He clipped me on the shoulder playfully. "And listen, kid, I don't think you should start thinking of collecting stuff to take home with you. You'll sour your time here that way. Toronto's a long way from the rue St-André-des-Arts."     We continued up the street, with Wad jumping up and trying to hit overhead shop signs, until we wandered into the Marché du Buci. Here Wad bought some small grey shrimp and a dozen " portuguaises ," which turned out to be oysters. When I left him, he had given me his address on the Notre-Dame-des-Champs and an invitation to dinner at eight o'clock that night. I took the Métro back to my hotel, where I looked up the street on my folding map. My brand new Baedeker on the bedside table was already beginning to look like a leftover from my early days in Paris. It felt good. I grinned at the familiar jug-eared face in the mirror. At last I was getting to meet people. At last I was finding my way around and feeling as though I had finally arrived. I hoped, as I began to run the water for a bath, that it wasn't because I had spent nearly an hour and a half speaking my own language in this foreign place. Copyright © 1992 Howard Engel. All rights reserved.