I’m in a quandary about The Paris Architect by Charles Balfoure. It is a well written book with a great premise…but…the description of Gestapo brutality to Jews, collaborators, those helping Jews or collaborators, while the truth, was just too much for me to read about. My brutality threshold is very low. Low enough that I couldn’t finish the book. On top of that, the thought of a character you like going through that brutality was enough to make me bag the book.
I first heard of Charles Belfoure at Librarian’s Day of Dialog at Book Expo several years ago. His book, House of Thieves, was just coming out and it had a great premise. An architect by background, Belfoure’s books combine a love of buildings with an interesting premise, making them quite different from the ‘run of the mill’ books we constantly read.
In The Paris Architect, Belfoure transported a historical occurrence from the reign of Elizabeth I into World War II. According to the Author Q & A at the back of the book, “During the reign of Elizabeth I, Catholicism was repressed and the saying of Mass was outlawed. But priests…refused to obey and continued to worship in secret in manor houses. As a precaution, carpenters designed and constructed “priest holes” for them to hide in if the house was discovered.
In The Paris Architect, Lucien Barnard, an out of work architect is reluctantly recruited by Auguste Manet to build hiding places that would be undetected by Gestapo searching homes. The promise of bigger jobs through which Lucien can showcase his talent has an allure that he can’t refuse. He has no particular love of the Jews; just the opposite. He considers them worthless. However, as time goes on, the challenge of building more sophisticated hiding places, takes hold.
That’s enough of the plot. Belfoure’s love of architecture and buildings is apparent throughout the book…which is a part of what I enjoyed with House of Thieves. Belfoure flushes out his characters well. Some are likeable and some totally not. He builds a good foundation (pun intended) for a plot that keeps you riveted. And while I would like to see what happens to certain characters, when I start skipping chapters because of brutality, it’s time to put the book down.
In conclusion, if you have a high threshold for brutality and pain and if you like a well written book with a well crafted plot (who doesn’t) then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Paris Architect.