MURDER ON THE EIFFEL TOWER, by Claude Izner, St. Martin's Minotaur, 304 pages, $23.95 (hardback)
In the summer of 1889, Paris took center stage, hosting the World Exposition and some 28 million visitors. The Eiffel Tower became the main symbol of the fair, serving as the entrance arch to exhibits.
Constructed from wrought iron and designed by architect Gustav Eiffel, the shiny new tower serves as the backdrop to mysterious deaths in Claude Izner's "Murder on the Eiffel Tower."
Visitors flock to the tower during the exposition, riding up to the second platform to sign the Golden Book and have their names printed in the newspaper.
On a sunny day, a woman takes her young nephews and niece to the tower. Overwhelmed by the height and the throngs of people, the woman collapses and dies. Her death is written off as an allergic reaction to a bee sting.
But something about that explanation doesn't sit right with young bookseller Victor Legris. He witnessed the woman's death and is dismayed by newspaper coverage that sensationalizes the events surrounding her demise.
When another death occurs, Legris begins to question the bee-sting explanation. He sets out with excitement to solve the mystery, searching out clues and traveling to all areas of the city. But that excitement wanes as his suspects become victims.
Things come to a head when Legris is forced to question the motives of his surrogate father, Kenji Mori, and the beautiful Russian illustrator Tasha. He's determined to get to the bottom of things and unwittingly puts his own life danger in the process.
"Murder on the Eiffel Tower," which was released in French in 2003, is the first in a series of mystery books by Izner (a pseudonym for sisters Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefevre).
Set in Paris, the city and its attractions play a major role in "Murder." For readers who have visited the City of Lights, the setting will seem familiar, but for those who haven't, references to Montmartre, Boulevarde de Clichey, Sacre-Coeur and Palais des Tuileries will be meaningless and a little clunky.
Multiple characters from all walks of life add dimension to "Murder," but they're also confusing. Readers may find themselves frequently flipping back to earlier chapters to figure out the key players.
Izner does a fair job re-creating the excitement of the 1889 World Exposition. A detailed account of exotic booths and displays and guests like the American cowboy Buffalo Bill is a smart setting for a murder mystery and grabs the reader's interest from the start.Unfortunately, a good idea does not always make a great novel. Slow pacing throughout the first half takes away from tension and can be discouraging. However, readers who stick with "Murder" will be rewarded with a climactic and somewhat convenient ending.