Review: The Paris Architect ~ Charles Belfoure

Paris ArchitectLike most gentiles in Nazi-occupied Paris, architect Lucien Bernard has little empathy for the Jews. So when a wealthy industrialist offers him a large sum of money to devise secret hiding places for Jews, Lucien struggles with the choice of risking his life for a cause he doesn’t really believe in. Ultimately he can’t resist the challenge and begins designing expertly concealed hiding spaces—behind a painting, within a column, or inside a drainpipe—detecting possibilities invisible to the average eye. But when one of his clever hiding spaces fails horribly and the immense suffering of Jews becomes incredibly personal, he can no longer deny reality.

Written by an expert whose knowledge imbues every page, this story becomes more gripping with every life the architect tries to save.

3 Thumbs-UpThis debut novel had all the components required to make it a great read, but unfortunately the Author seemed to have difficulty fitting all the pieces together.

The main protagonist is the architect mentioned in the title and, although the reader learns a lot about their background in architecture and his relationship with his Father, there is actually very little depth to a character that could have been so much more.  As I read I felt a no connection with him and at times thought him to be rather a wimp.  Yes, he does grow morally as the novel progresses, but I still couldn’t get rid of that feeling that he wasn’t doing growing as a person but he was moulding his selfish ways into a more acceptable shape for the time and situation in which the book is set.  By the time I finished reading I felt I cared more, and knew more about the motivations and personalities of lesser characters than I did the main.  The Author did a skilful job when writing some of his lesser characters, making you despise some of them so intensely it was surprising whilst at the same time making the reader wonder why.

Having been to Paris many times I recognised a lot of the places that were mentioned in this novel, but I gained a greater appreciation for them when they were described from the viewpoint of an architect, which is the Authors profession.  I had always thought there was something unique about the buildings in Paris, and through his descriptions of the way an arch curved or a pillar was placed, I was able to make sense of why I felt this.  For those readers who have not been to Paris, the Author transports them to this place and gently gives them a guided tour of the city.  Despite being a qualified architect, the Author has taken great pains not to bog down this story with the minutiae of his art, rather leaning on the side of caution and giving enough technical information to keep the book interesting, but not enough to bore the reader.

The chapters and action flow smoothly through the first two-thirds of this book, whether it is horrendous crimes against a person or the designing of a building, everything joins seamlessly and with jarring the reader.  For some reason this was not the case with the closing portion of the novel; suddenly sentences seemed to be very choppy and ill thought-out, the chapters appeared to have been thrown together in an almost random fashion and, for me, it became a little irritating to have this smooth flow so abruptly interrupted.  I would like to say it may have been the intent of the Author that his book end in this fashion, but as the action played out in these last chapters the way in which they were constructed didn’t convince me of this.  I am surprised that the editor did not pick up on this, and it did actually make the novel lose something for me.

I would however, recommend this to those readers who like a good, not great, World War II novel and anyone who just likes an interesting read.