An amorous axiom:
Paris = passion.
Great scenery, great food, great wine.
And those words: There’s a reason they call French a “Romance Language.”
ONE TRUE SENTENCE is the fourth novel in my series about Hector Lassiter, a 20th Century novelist and sensualist notorious for “living what he writes and writing what he lives.”
Vive la différence: Each novel in the Lassiter series has endeavored to be markedly different from the one that precedes it and from the installment that follows.
Despite the various personal creative challenges I set for myself as its author, there is one element that has remained consistent throughout the Lassiter series. Hector is, from book to book, confronted by formidable women who leave sometimes dark but always lasting marks on his psyche and soul. Simply put, women run this man’s life.
After entangling Hector with three lovers ranging the spectrum from light to very dark, it seemed appropriate in the middle range of Hector’s saga to present the woman who truly made Hector into Hector. The time seemed ripe, in essence, to reveal Hector’s first great love.
My central aim in ONE TRUE SENTENCE was to depict the romantic figure in Hector’s storied life. I aimed to portray the woman who most profoundly shaped Hector Lassiter as a lover, as writer and as the shades-of-gray heroic figure readers have come to know in the previous three novels.
Having established Hector as “The Last Man Standing of the Lost Generation” and as a friend and contemporary of Ernest Hemingway, it was also high time to fully explore a heady period in Hector’s life alluded to (and in the previous novel PRINT THE LEGEND, briefly depicted): namely, Hector’s apprenticeship as an aspiring literary writer in the City of Lights, circa 1924.
The term “Lost Generation” was one made famous by Ernest Hemingway, but purportedly coined by Gertrude Stein. Hemingway regarded the label as Stein’s way of snidely short-handing the post World War I generation — a generation she dismissed as having been rendered nihilistic, hedonistic and aimless after the ravages of World War I and a post-war/pre-Depression economic boom. Lost Generation men are largely remembered as sulky hard drinkers who spoke in laconic, Hemingwayesque short sentences and rued the darkness.
It was the women, really, who defined my own enduring sense of the Lost Generation — women like Hemingway’s Brett Ashley and her real-life inspiration, Lady Duff Twysden.
The women of the Lost Generation were finally voting and pursuing careers and higher education. But most of them were also wearing a hell of a lot less. These intrepid young heartbreakers were drinking and smoking and flirting with profanity as well as with any man who struck their fancy.
Women were, for the first time in Western history, openly carnal and nowhere was that more true than in 1920s France.
In Paris, in the early to middle 1920s, hormones raged and sex dominated the scene.
Only in Paris could a Midwestern minister’s daughter such as Sylvia Beach so radically reinvent herself, embracing lesbianism and, as a bookseller, daring to publish the U.S.-banned Ulysses by James Joyce.
Only in Paris could Josephine Baker dance topless in a banana skirt and Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas unabashedly live as lovers.
Open marriages were practically invented in 1920s Paris. Performers tantalized fans with androgynous alter egos. Man Ray and others spiced gallery walls with images of erotic nudes.
The ménage et trois was arguably a more prevalent domestic reality than monogamy in the 1920s City of Lights.
In France, in the Twenties, it seemed to many that only conventionality was unconventional.
And, so, in this erotically charged milieu, Hector Lassiter meets the enticing and mysterious mystery writer Brinke Devlin, a dark-haired, dark-eyed lusty enigma who rocks Hector’s world not just in this novel, but across the balance of his life.
Brinke, a kind of blending of the silent screen siren Louise Brooks and the mystery novelist Craig Rice, is a few years older and ages wiser than Hector. In her own intrepid way, Brinke has already charted the course Hector will follow as an author and screenwriter.
But Brinke is also darkly unpredictable, in and out of bed.
One key earlier reader has called OTS my “sex book.” Guilty as charged. Hemingway said the responsibility of the writer is to find what is true and then depict it in such a way that it becomes a part of the experience of the person who reads it. Paris, in February 1924, was drenched in sex and, consequently, so is this book. Fair warning: Lovers of cozy mysteries and chaste romance should steer far clear of this novel. The characters in ONE TRUE SENTENCE have strong urges and they indulge them.
But ONE TRUE SENTENCE is also a book about romantic passion and two darkly creative, imaginative and arguably damaged people trying to establish meaningful intimacy and abiding ties in the midst of the booze-fueled, citywide orgy that was 1920s Paris.
And there are other women in OTS who equally drive the narrative and young Hector’s life — from the formidable and imperious Gertrude Stein, to a British mystery writer specializing in “locked room mysteries,” and a passionate young poetess with her own dangerous secrets and amorous designs on Hector.
Always, as a swooning backdrop to this novel, there is Paris.
I fell in love with Hemingway’s version of Paris as a young man upon a first reading of A MOVEABLE FEAST. In my naïve early 20s, I nursed this notion of running off to the City of Lights and living Hemingway’s memoir. Never mind the fact Hemingway had an exchange rate in his favor that has never again been equaled in history. Never mind the fact I then spoke not much more French than ala mode.
Hemingway’s version of 1920s Paris seduced me and has never truly let go of my imagination.
In ONE TRUE SENTENCE, I aimed to take that intoxicating vision of the City of Lights and cast a shadow across both banks of the Seine.
In March, my French publisher is bringing me to France for a couple of crime fiction conferences. I aim to haunt Hem’s (and Hector’s) Parisian haunts; to explore the city of Lyon that figures in a yet-to-be-published Lassiter novel. I mean to see precisely how closely life-imitates-art-imitates-life.
It’s a long time since the 1920s’ Paris that Hem and Hector would have known. A hell of a lot of water has coursed under all those picturesque bridges that join the banks of Paris.
Yet the city, they claim, is ageless in her way. She remains THE place that unfailingly evokes Romance with a capital “R.”
An old line has it that Paris, like an enticing woman, “Will kiss you, or kill you but never bore you.”
As an older Hem wrote of Paris in a magazine article long after he’d left her, “She is like a mistress who does not grow old and she has other lovers now…she is always the same age and she always has new lovers.”
That said, whether it’s on the page or in person, once you’ve had her — once she’s had you — like your first lover, you always have Paris and she always owns some part of you, body and soul.
*Paperback Dolls wish to thank the amazing Craig McDonald for participating in our Passport to France feature. Not only is he one of our favorite crime fiction authors he is one of our favorite guests to host. If you have yet to read his Hector Lassiter series we strongly recommend them and encourage you to visit Craig’s website to learn more about him and his other works.
As he is drawn deeper into the hunt, Hector finds himself torn between three women with hidden agendas and dark imaginations. When Hector learns that the murders may be the work of a strange cult of writers who are targeting the literary set, Hemingway, Hector, and Brinke must scramble to find the killer before they become the next victims.
A Moveable Feast meets The Dante Club in this exquisite mystery that takes readers from the cafés of Montparnasse, through the historic graveyards of Paris, to the smoky backrooms of bookstores and salons. As dark as the shadowy banks of the Seine and as addictive as absinthe, this unforgettable book will grab you and never let go.
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