Book Reviews

Gray Paree by Garrett Hutson at Warfleigh Publishing

Genre Mixed Orientations / Historical / 20th Century / Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Reviewed by ParisDude on 13-November-2020

Book Blurb

1940 - The City of Lights has gone dark, and Nazi oppression crushes the land of Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality

American Oliver Carmichael loves his life in Paris, playing in a night club jazz band, and enjoying the freedom and intellectual stimulation of his bohemian set of friends. His happiness is tempered by unresolved feelings for his ex-fiancée, Lisette, especially after he sees her with another man in his club-but he tends those wounds with an affair with an older woman...and also with the boy next door.

His life is further disrupted when the Germans march into Paris, and several of his friends join the resistance. When an officer from the American Embassy, Frank Dryden, asks Oliver to keep tabs on his friends' resistance activities, Oliver is torn. What is the best way to help his friends? What is the right thing to do? Once in, there is no way out.

As the Gestapo and their allies in the French police close in, can Oliver save his friends without losing his own life or freedom? And just when it seems he will lose Lisette forever, Marcel offers Oliver an alternative-if they survive.



Set in German-occupied Paris during the early years of World War II, Gray Paree is the story of an American expat's struggle to reconcile with the love of his life, help his French friends resist tyranny, and do what is right.

If you enjoy Alan Furst's Night Soldiers novels, but like to see LGBT characters, then you'll love Gray Paree.

 

Book Review

Spring 1940. The young American Oliver has been living in Paris, France, for some years now and is working as a trumpet player in a jazz band in Le Chien Errant, one of the cabarets up in the Pigalle district near Montmartre. Ever since his fiancée Lisette has broken up with him, he has the impression of living a life put on hold. Luckily, he has quite a lot of friends on the same block of the bohème 5th arrondissement where he’s living: enigmatic Sebastien, hot-headed Serge, tomboy Adrienne, sweet Madeleine, Colette the hapless actress, Marie-France, and the young waiter Marcel, with whom Oliver enjoys an off-and-on sexual affair. Apart from his bleeding heart, Oliver has to admit that life in Gay Paris is easy and light, even if no one has any money to speak of. Everybody has a lover or two, it seems, no matter the sex, and problems are solved by a simple, typically Gallic shrug more often than not. Of course, many worry about France’s cumbersome neighbor, the German Reich, and about chancellor Hitler’s saber-rattling and belliquose stance. France and Germany are at war since the Germans invaded Poland the year before, after all, but it’s a “drôle de guerre”, a Phoney War, with no military action between the warring countries to speak of. Memories of the nefarious Great War are still in everybody’s minds, and the quarreling French political elite doesn’t reassure anybody as to what the future might hold.

 

Yet when the German troops invade France via neutral Belgium, it comes as an immense shock. Soldiers are rushed to the front to defend the country, but they’re overrun in no time. The Germans reach Paris, occupy half of France, and every person’s lives and destinies go helter-skelter. Some like Colette, the actress, and Lisette, Oliver’s former fiancée, become collaborators, almost despite themselves. Others like Sebastien and Serge are openly hostile to the new fascist Vichy regime under Marshall Pétain that nominally runs the country. As to Oliver, he is approached by an obscure officer working for the US embassy, Frank Dryden, who asks the young man if he could gather intelligence about eventual resistance movements within the young bohemian circle around him. Reluctantly Oliver accepts the mission, only to discover that the new regime jeopardizes everything he believes in: freedom, lawfulness, solidarity, love, and friendship. He immediately decides he cannot remain a simple observer but has to help France shake off its oppressors so that it becomes the land of freedom, equality, and fraternity again. Even if that decision means his life might be in danger…

 

I don’t know whether I would define this novel as a gay novel if asked, but the definition of what constitutes gay literature is somewhat moot, anyway, and not one I care for. All right, the main character Oliver is anything but gay, pining for his lost love Lisette throughout the book (well, lost… no, no spoilers coming from this reviewer!), and I’m not even sure I’d call him bisexual. He’s fooling around with an older, married, well-off woman, and sometimes having fun with Marcel the same way everybody around him seems to be sleeping with anybody else, and he remains completely oblivious to Marcel’s growing feelings for him. But there are plenty of other LGBT+-characters in the book to justify its inclusion on this site. Moreover, it’s a real page-turner with an overall likeable cast, a book I can recommend without a moment’s hesitation, so there.

 

Oliver comes across at first as a naïve young American who most of the time doesn’t have many clues as to what is going on around him. He has been living in France for long enough to know why people react in very different ways from what he was used to experience back in the USA, but he is incapable himself of imitating them. He is still at heart a big-eyed, handsome, candid young man who relishes the atmosphere of insouciance of the sparkling city around him. His loyalty to his friends, even to the girl he seems to have lost forever, Lisette, remains one of his best features; all in all, I found him very endearing, and his comparisons between the American way of doing things versus the French way were rather astute and for me, another foreigner living in Paris, quite amusing.

 

The whole cast of characters, by the way, who take turns telling the story in third person, had something I could relate to and which made me like them (bar the Germans and the French collaborationist police inspector, that is). The plot progresses at a brisk, relentless pace, or maybe I got that impression because I was rushing through the book, impatient to find out what would be happening next. Apart from certain errors in French that could have easily been avoided had the book been proofread by a native speaker, the writing was good, solid, with just enough descriptions and frills to make it engaging and colorful. The author knows what he’s doing when he picks up his quill, so to say, and seems to have researched the time and place where the novel is set with much care for details. The story is well constructed, with an ending that made me wish there would be a follow-up (which I doubt). Really a great, breath-taking read about a gloomy era.

 

 

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the publisher or author. This book has been provided by the author for the purpose of a review.

 

Additional Information

Format ebook and print
Length Novel, 355 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 25-October-2020
Price $4.99 ebook, $24.99 hardcover
Buy Link https://www.amazon.com/Gray-Paree-Garrett-Hutson-ebook/dp/B08KLCTRX8