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The Paris Secret

The Paris Secret, November 2017
by Karen Swan

William Morrow
Featuring: Xavier Vermeil; Flora Sykes
416 pages
ISBN: 0062672827
EAN: 9780062672827
Kindle: B01NBODDYW
Paperback / e-Book
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"A gripping and tragic story"

Fresh Fiction Review

The Paris Secret
Karen Swan

Reviewed by Magdalena Johansson
Posted November 27, 2017

Women's Fiction

THE PARIS SECRET is such a fabulous book. From the start, the story engrossed me as Flora, a fine art agent from London, arrived in Paris together with her boss to visit an apartment that has been locked since World War II. What secrets does the apartment have? Why has the apartment been locked and forgotten for so long time? But as Flora begins investigating the history of the paintings that are found in the apartment, she realizes maybe the apartment was left that way for a reason.

The most amazing thing is that this is just not a make-believe story. The story in this book may be fiction, but they have actually found an apartment in Paris that was locked and forgotten since World War II. That is such an eye-catching situation that I'm not at all surprised authors want to write books about it. THE PARIS SECRET is not the first of its kind, but the richness of the story just kept me going the entire time.

This story does not jump in time or rely on flashbacks. Everything that happens takes place in present time. And, despite being a big fan of dual storylines was I pleased about it since I liked the storyline in the present so much and enjoyed discovering the past together with Flora. Now, the one thing that bothered me was the obvious love story, or rather the fact that Flora's brother is in some legal trouble that will cause a problem in her life later on. Now, I know this is in the story to cause some drama, but the main story about the paintings was interesting enough that I would have preferred Flora's love life to take a less central role in this book. I'm not totally against her romantic entanglement, but it gets so over-the-top with her never before being in love, and suddenly he's there; dark and mysterious. I was so fascinated with the Vermeil family's past that the sideline story about Flora's brother often felt like a distraction, especially since she is told early on in the book what the problem is, but the reader is kept in the dark. It annoyed me more than thrilled me.

Nevertheless, despite my objections to Flora's love story, THE PARIS SECRET is a great book. It's a tragic story that captivated me all through. I loved discovering the truth together with Flora and seeing the apartment's treasures through her eyes. I definitely want to read more Karen Swan books.

Learn more about The Paris Secret

SUMMARY

In this glittering tale of forgotten treasures and long- held secrets, international bestseller Karen Swan explores one woman’s journey to discovering the truth behind an abandoned apartment and a family whose mysteries may be better left undiscovered

When high-powered fine art agent Flora Sykes is called in to assess objets d’art in a Paris apartment that has been abandoned since WWII, she is skeptical at first—until she discovers that under decades of dust the treasure trove of paintings is myriad…and priceless. The powerful Vermeil family to whom they belong is eager to learn more and asks Flora to trace the history of each and every painting.

Despite a shocking announcement that has left her own family reeling, Flora finds herself thrown into the rarified and glamorous world of the Vermeils. But she soon realizes that there is more to this project than first appears and as she researches the provenance of their prize Renoir, she uncovers a scandal surrounding not only the painting, but a secret that goes to the very heart of the family itself. The fallout will place Flora in the eye of a storm that carries her from London to Vienna to the glittering coast of Provence.

Xavier Vermeil, the brusque scion of the family, is determined to separate Flora from his family’s affairs in spite of the powerful attraction that propels them to one another. Just what are the secrets he is desperately trying to hide? And what price is Flora willing to pay to uncover the devastating truth…?

Excerpt

Prologue

Paris, July 2016

Clouds bearded the moon and the horizon was still inky, with every one of the world-famous lights turned off, save for the beacon at the top of the distinctive tower that distinguished the famous city even in the dark. The two men moved unseen on the mansard roofs, keeping their heads below the ridge line, bodies curled inwards like autumn leaves, their stealthy footsteps no more than the mere padding of cats to the sleeping inhabitants of the apartments below.

Catching sight of their mark on the other side of the street, they stopped and crouched between the dormers, their eyes counting down the number of windows echoed in the matching buildings across the street. In silence, they spooled out the rope, the carabiners clipped on their harnesses clattering together like chimes as they moved— sure-footed, pulses up—and anchored themselves to the chimney stack.

The first man stepped over the edge, feeling that familiar rush as gravity exerted its might and the rope tightened; he paused for a second, checking that everything would hold, before dropping down below the roofline, pushing off from the wall with his feet every few meters.

The other man followed and within a minute, they were there—the dust-screened windows which had first caught their attention, every bit as obscured, close up, as they had hoped. The Juliet balcony outside it was shallow, wide enough only for a potted rose, but it was sufficient for a foothold and they swung their legs over the intricate balustrade. Standing with their feet parallel to the wall, they could angle their body weight into the building and each of them cupped his hands around his face, trying to peer past the obfuscated glass. But it was like trying to see through smoke.

In the distance, a siren sounded and both men stiffened, their reflexes sharp as they tracked which direction it was coming from—and where it was heading to.

Not here. That was all they needed to know.

They resumed their efforts to get in, gloved hands on the doors. There was no handle on the outside and the inner, left-facing, door didn’t budge, but the outer one rattled lightly, showing it was loose. Loose enough, anyway. These doors were old—the wood rotting, the single-glazing so thin they could crack it with a sneeze. But even that wouldn’t be necessary. The first man had bent his knees and, his eye level with the latch, could clearly see the thin metal arm of an oldfashioned hook that was the only thing keeping the outside out. He grabbed his knife from his back pocket and jimmying it into the gap, quickly flicked it upwards. The hook swung up, round and back, knocking lightly against itself.

They were in. It was that easy—a sharp eye, a rope and a knife.

The doors were stiff with neglect, the hinges protesting with loud creaks as they were forced back, but open they did and both men stepped onto the parquet floor. They twisted their headlamps on and, unclipping themselves from the ropes, began to move silently through the empty rooms.

The air was so stale it almost had a physical texture to it and they couldn’t help but cough, even though the need for silence was paramount. That wasn’t all they disturbed— their footsteps on the dusty floor recorded their path through the apartment like tracks in the snow, but who would ever see? It was obvious no one apart from them knew this place was still here. It was hidden in plain sight, the neighbors’ apathy no doubt perpetuating the secret, everyone working on the assumption that it belonged to someone else; that it was someone else’s problem. You couldn’t just lose an apartment, after all; couldn’t forget you owned it.

But someone had.

The first man stopped in the kitchen. A single chair lay on its side on the floor, a dresser stood bare, its hooks like curled, arthritic fingers with nothing to hold. There wasn’t a pot or a pan, a bucket or mop. The place had been stripped.

Disappointed, they walked further down the hall, their twin beams of light crossing over each other like dueling swords in the blackness as they continued to search.

Both men stopped at the threshold to the bedroom. An iron bedstead was pushed against the back wall but that wasn’t what quickened their pulses. A large wooden crate stood at the end, the lid splintered from where it had been levered off, a crowbar still on the bed slats.

They hurried over, the first man squinting as he read a small sheet of paper stapled to the inside. The handwritten script had faded in the sun but there was a company name and oval logo on the top and it looked like some kind of proforma docket.

Behind him, the second man tripped over something on the floor and lurched heavily into the end of the bed. He swore and looked back irritably, picking up the offending article. He had thought it just a rag, but on closer inspection saw it was a child’s toy—a cloth duck comforter, its stuffed head bald from overuse, the terry cloth bleached with age and thick with dust. The man immediately sneezed, letting it drop to the floor again.

So much for silence, his companion thought. They might as well just hold a party and invite the neighbors.

“Holy shit,” he whispered, shining a light into the crate as he stared in.

The second man hurried over, his flashlight too flooding the dark cavity with light.

Both men stared, open-mouthed, at what was inside. It was more than they could have dreamed of.

“Quick. Let’s get her out.”


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