Tired of your drab surroundings? Looking for excitement? Travel? Mystery? Then join Collin Kelley in the second installment of his Venus trilogy, Remain in Light. You’ll get boys, heartbreak, affairs, mysterious men and women, and more Paris than you can shake a baguette at.
Martin Paige, a young poet, is living in Paris with his older female friend, Irene Laureux, across the hall from his kind-of-boyfriend Euan McAvoy, but his heart belongs to the long-gone but not forgotten David McLaren—a drug dealer who stole Martin’s heart and disappeared, supposedly back to the States. However, Martin’s friend Diane Jacobs has found out David’s parents have lost track of him as well. Where is he? Why are the gendarmes looking for him? And how does all of this fit in with Irene’s late husband Jean-Louis, murdered thirty years ago by persons unknown during the Paris student and worker riots of 1968?
Even though it’s the second book of a trilogy, Remain in Light can be read as a standalone due to Kelley’s deft handling of the material found in the first book, revealed mostly through dialogue. The storyline is complex but not complicated—basically comprised of two intertwined mysteries. It is not a breathless, plot-centric mystery, relying instead on atmospherics to fuel its twists and turns. And Kelley’s sense of place is incredible, conjuring up Paris and the rue Rampon so vividly you are engulfed in the seedy dark side of the City of Light.
Kelley has a rather large cast here. Some are holdovers from the first installment, Conquering Venus, but many are introduced here for the first time—detectives, policemen, former lovers, current paramours, and mysterious benefactors. The number of characters is nearly Dickensian, but Kelley juggles them effortlessly, never dropping one as he heads relentlessly towards the “resolution.” I put that in quotes because Kelley does resolve the plot but leaves many avenues open for further exploration.
Be warned, however. This is no beach read. It’s literate and meaty, drawing upon many diverse sources for its inspiration—Proust, Dickens, and even Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo among them. You will not breeze through this, nor should you. Its sensibility should be savored and time taken to appreciate its subtleties of character and plot—especially Irene Laureux, an agoraphobic widow who needs to understand what happened to her husband by seeking his male lover, Frederick Dubois. She is a particularly tragic character, and Kelley inhabits her as well as he does the men.
Remain in Light is a wonderfully dark, sombre mystery steeped in Parisian culture as well as American know-how, creating its own little world you’ll be glad to inhabit. Here’s hoping the third installment comes soon.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler