WITH THE STROKE OF A PEN: The Remarkable Life and Infamous Murder of Robert Denol

A. Louise Staman, Author . St. Martin's/Dunne $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-312-27213-5

On the night of December 2, 1945, Robert Denoël, whose distinguished publishing house was facing charges of collaboration with the Germans, was shot to death on a Paris street. The murder was never solved by police, who initially conducted virtually no investigation. In her first book, Staman, with a master's degree in French and humanities, deftly probes the mystery of the publisher's death, her research leading her to a trove of revelatory documents sealed for decades by the French government. The events she recounts have the makings of a terrific literary detective drama, with walk-on parts by such colorful figures as Anaïs Nin and featured roles for avant-garde literary figures like Louis-Ferdinand Céline (Denoël's star author) and Antonin Artaud. For the most part, Staman crafts the tale skillfully, vividly portraying characters like Denoël's socially ambitious mistress (also mistress to poet Paul Valéry) and placing events in the larger context of Paris during the Nazi occupation and the purges of collaborators that followed the city's liberation. But there is a major flaw in Staman's narrative: she insists on inserting herself into the tale, believing her process of research and discovery to be as interesting as Denoël's story. Readers will quickly tire of her imagined reconstructions of various scenes ("Of course, I attended the premiere of Les Cens," a play by Artaud) and the insipid dialogue she recreates. Which is too bad, because for those interested in Paris and its publishing scene before and during WWII, Staman's tale has many rewards. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Bob Solinger.(Nov.)

Reviewed on: 10/28/2002
Release date: 11/01/2002
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