In 1951, recently graduated Jacqueline Bouvier is recruited by a family friend to complete a small yet classified assignment for the newly emerging Central Intelligence Agency. Eager for a reprieve from her family’s expectations and a chance to find her calling, and upon learning that her assignment would take her to Paris, Jackie jumps at the opportunity — and into a complex web of espionage, sabotage, and death. With the help of French CIA affiliate Jacques, she comes closer to her objective, but will she be able to fulfill the mission and escape Paris with her life — and the truth?
The central storyline is intriguing and filled with enough plot twists to consider it a decent spy story in some respects. Kenneth’s characters are three-dimensional and ridiculous or sympathetic as required, particularly the mysterious Princess Nureen of Balazistan; however, it is fairly simple for the reader to figure out early that everybody is not as they seem, so that when Kenneth (through Jackie) reveals the truth, it is anticlimactic. Also, there is so much emphasis on Jackie’s upbringing in a world of wealth that she is hard to take seriously in the scenarios into which she is thrust — family friend at the CIA or not.
What takes away from the story more than obvious characters, however, is Kenneth’s attempt to turn her story into a guidebook of Paris. While there are points in Paris to Die For in which those details are important, she focuses so heavily on French fashion, food, and landmarks in the build-up to the next plot point that she distracts the reader from remembering that this is not a guidebook. I also found it frustrating that Kenneth peppered the text with French phrases that she immediately translated. The French alone would add the flair I believe she sought, but reading straight translations instead of allowing the context to translate pulled me out of the story several times.
The ending was similarly unsurprising and unfulfilling, though it managed to tie up the loose ends. Jackie’s inspiring personal transformation, meanwhile, was left underdeveloped through the conclusion so that it felt manufactured and left behind with everything else in Paris.
If Kenneth had employed more effort in building a compelling and cohesive spy novel, Paris to Die For would be one to which I would turn again and again. Instead, Jackie Bouvier and Paris will go back on the shelf for some time.
Shannon lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her fiancé and a room full of books that she peruses when she isn’t trolling Apartment Therapy for new decorating ideas. In her free time she enjoys maintaining her blog, The Writer’s Closet, planning her wedding, and baking tasty gluten-free treats.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Grand Central Publishing. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.