Floats the Dark Shadow by Yves Fey
Floats the Dark Shadow is sub-titled ‘A Mystery of Paris’ and that seems apt as Fey has captured the romance and the contradictions of that famous city so well. The novel is set during the supreme decadence of the Belle Époque, the late 1890’s, when Paris having survived the turmoil and bloodshed of the Commune era, stood on the cusp of the modern age.
Theodora Faraday is a young American artist and feminist, living in Montmartre. She spends her days framing Montmartre in oils and pastels as she wanders the Bohemian streets accompanied by the Revenants – a group of poetic-types in search of inner darkness. But be under no illusions, this is not a fluffy romance novel, this is a very dark story of murder and deceit… a serial killer is kidnapping and torturing children, reincarnating an ancient evil that stalks the gas lit streets of Paris. Theodora soon finds that her friends are implicated in the killings and she must work with Michel Devaux of the Sûreté to investigate the crime and bring the killer – or killers – to justice what ever the personal cost.
The first thing that stands out in this work is that Yves Fey knows Paris. Her streets are real – the sights, sounds, smells and atmosphere are conjured skillfully. She seems to capture the interleving of the beauty and sophistication of the city with its underlying menace. All of its blood-soaked history and its dirty little secrets mean that violence is never far from the surface in this glittering Fin de siècle metropolis. From the obvious horror of the murders of innocent children, to the political violence of the Anarchists that provides the introduction of Inspector Devaux to the plot, and the gender violence inherent in the tragedy of the Bazar de la Charité (where men fleeing the flames beat down women and children in order to escape – 126 died in total and hundreds were horribly injured). In short – this Paris is not sentimental – it is a world where the weak are not safe and everyone has an agenda.
Fire runs as a theme through this novel, the Killer believes that they are the re-incarnation of Gilles de Rais, right-hand man of Jeanne D’Arc; a man who following her death at the stake, became Frances most notorious child killer and occultist. He is said to have killed between 80 -200 victims and was hanged for his crimes and then burned in 1440.
By the end of the novel – fire has touched everyone.
Throughout the novel Fey succeeds in hiding the killer from the reader, the dark shadow of suspicion fell on several of the characters, but I was still surprised when the killer was unmasked. Like all good crime stories the clues are there if you can spot them…
This novel is also a romance of sorts and this element is important – especially because it does not play out conventionally. Theodora is smitten with Averill Charron, her cousin, and one of the Revenants. Averill with his fallen-angel good looks and his sexual ambiguity seems to be the ultimate in Absinthe-drinking nihilistic doomed poet types. Neverthless, I actually found that the chemistry and sexual tension between Theodora and Devaux, was far more interesting than her mooning around over the slightly wet Averill!
Where the novel falls down is that the author almost tries to pack too much punch into it. Perhaps showing off her knowledge of the dark side of the nineteenth century a little too precociously for one novel. There are some almost set-piece scenes: there is a trip to the catacombs, the Grand Guignol theatre, and an asylum where a public display of the newly invented vibrator is being given by the one of the characters (in itself a truly disturbing scene). All of these are wonderfully written and observed but I quickly found myself totting up who and what was in Paris in the 1890’s and laying bets on whether they would turn up – Oscar Wilde was mentioned and Occultists Moina and MacGregor Mather and the very esoteric WB Yeats all feature with various degrees of prominence and there was even room for an Anatomical Venus in the plot!
Despite this plethora of hammer horror scenes and famous names from history, at times some of the more prominent characters seemed a little under-written. I would have loved more involvement from the Criminal Mastermind Blaise Dancier, and his interactions with the detective Devaux. However, I suspect Fey will be exploring this relationship further in future novels.
Despite, or even, because of its flaws, I still found myself utterly captivated by this novel. Floats the Dark Shadow succeeds in evoking a dark and menacing yet enticing vision of Belle Époque Paris. Fey has created a cast of memorable characters with plausible back-stories who I hope will be further developed in future stories.
You can find out more about the ridiculously talented Yves Fey at yvesfey.com and Floats the Dark Shadow is available at: