Mysteries of Paris: Great Fall and Winter Reading

Mysteries of Paris: Great Fall and Winter Reading

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Midnight in Europe
Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst

The days are getting shorter, and that means more time for cuddling up by the fire and reading, right? Maybe reading mysteries? Mysteries set in Paris?

Book by Georges Simenon
Book by Georges Simenon

It probably makes sense to start by mentioning Georges Simenon, the prolific Belgian author of literally hundreds of novels, the most well-known being the mysteries featuring his fictional Parisian police detective, Jules Maigret. If you can read the originals in French, do! His prose is elegant, and even if your French is not very good, reading mysteries is one of the best ways to make it better, since curiosity about the unfolding plot can help inspire you to keep going. At least that is the way it works for me.

In the spy/thriller category, the historical novels of Alan Furst, are all set in Europe, several of them in Paris, during the crucial years 1933-1945. The World at Night is the one I use in class to try to give my students something of a sense of what it must have been like to live in Paris during the first year of the Occupation. Red Gold, Mission to Paris, Midnight in Europe, and The Foreign Correspondent are also set in Paris. Furst’s novels are well-written, well-researched, and all worth reading, not least because they offer an excellent opportunity to learn more about those dark years in Europe.

Author Cara Black/ photographer Laura Skayhan
Author Cara Black/ photographer Laura Skayhan

Cara Black’s popular series features the intrepid, very fashionable, half-American half-French private detective, Aimée LeDuc. Each unfolds in a different arrondissement, and they often shine a light on Parisian subcultures. Her latest novel, Murder on the Champ de Mars, fifteenth in the series, takes place in the tony seventh arrondissement, and the plot involves interactions between characters in that somewhat hermetic world, and those from another equally hermetic one—the world of the Roma (gypsies). [Read an excerpt of Black’s latest book here.]

I’ve recently become acquainted with a relatively new—and wonderfully well-written—series of mysteries set in Paris by Mark Pryor. His sympathetic protagonist, Hugo Marston, is an ex-FBI profiler, and current head of security at the American embassy in Paris. There are already five books in the series, and the next is due to come out in the spring. So you’ve got time to catch up before the next one comes out.

Playground for Misunderstanding
“Playground for Misunderstanding”

I’m fond of two compelling mysteries by Jake Lamar set in Paris: Rendezvous 18th and Ghosts of St. Michel. [Check out my interview with Lamar here.] And I also enthusiastically recommend Playground for Misunderstanding, which blends academic farce and astute observations of Franco/Amerian cross-cultural differences into a delightfully engaging whodunit. You can read more about this book in an interview I did with its author, Ellen Hampton, here.

Finally–I must confess I haven’t read this one yet–but since I like everything else I’ve read by David Downie, I’m planning to. Michael Balter has said of Paris, City of Night, “Downie brings both Paris and his characters alive with an economical but richly descriptive prose style reminiscent of Raymond Chandler and Eric Ambler. A must read!”

I don’t know about you, but that’s enough to convince me to add it to my reading list.

sculpture Maigret (1966) by Pieter d'Hont in Delfzijl/The Netherlands
sculpture Maigret (1966) by Pieter d’Hont in Delfzijl/The Netherlands/ Public Domain- Wikipedia

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Janet Hulstrand is a freelance writer, editor and teacher who divides her time between France and the U.S. She is the author of "Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You," and she writes frequently on France for a variety of publications, including her blog, Writing from the Heart, Reading for the Road. She teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” for the education abroad program of Queens College of the City University of New York; classes at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C.; and Writing from the Heart workshop/retreats in Essoyes, a beautiful little village in the Champagne region (l’Aube).


  1. I cannot thank you enough for this timely post. You have saved the holidays here in the Ozarks, our beautiful but not overly Parisian area. Merry Escape!

  2. For a true feeling for Paris during WWII, I recommend ‘The Blue Bicycle’ and its sequels by Régine Deforges. Of course you might also wish to read my book set in Paris between the wars, ‘A CRUEL CALM’.

  3. In his vein, I would like to recommend, shameless commerce follows, my own novel, The Pilot: Fighter Planes and Paris, an literary aviation/adventure romance set in Paris. The book features iconic Parisian venues as well as the thoughts of Hemingway, Proust, Sartre, Antione de Saint-Exupéry and many others. What did Yogi Berra say about Fouquets? it’s in there.

  4. Such a great list of mysteries set in Paris. Thank you for pulling them all together. I have literally just read After the Crash by Michel Bussi, crime mystery from Paris down through France to the Jura Mountains.
    I actually took Cara Black’s Murder in the Bastille and The Ingredients of Love by Nicolas Barreau, both set in Paris when I went to Paris, which was just such a lovely way to connect with the city both during the visit and an excellent way to “re-visit” the city upon my return!
    Happy Paris Reading everyone!