The Paris Affair by Anton Du Beke: A time-travelling dance of delights – book review -
Put on your dancing shoes, polish up the sequins, and glide seamlessly into the glitz and glamour of Mayfair as the dark shadows of conflict fall over the luxury hotel which has become the much-loved stage for Strictly Come Dancing star and all-round entertainer Anton Du Beke’s richly nostalgic novel series.
The king of dance – and now king of romance – Du Beke returns to sweep us off our feet and waltz us back in time to the upstairs and downstairs dramas of the residents and staff of the Buckingham Hotel in 1941 and discover that wartime brings danger on both the home front and the battlefront.
The Paris Affair is our sixth trip back in time to the music and magic of the Buckingham’s magnificent Grand Ballroom where dreams, dancing and dilemmas are part of everyday life, but where the war is proving the catalyst for changes that affect every corner of the hotel.
As the Buckingham digs in deep for life in wartime, echoes from events in Paris in 1926 are beginning to stir. In those heady days, young dancer Ray Cohen had arrived fresh from London to compete at the Casino de Paris as part of the Exhibition Paris.
Dogged by a feeling that he didn’t ‘belong’ in these grand places, Ray was reminded of his own ‘lowly upbringing’ in Whitechapel but was soon led astray by Frenchman Hugo, a charismatic dancer who was born to the Parisian streets and introduced him to the city’s nightlife... including a dazzling, dark-haired stranger called Hannah Lindt.
Hugo was convinced that Ray must change his name if he was to impress High Society with his elegance and poise, and so that pulsating night before the big competition he became Raymond de Guise, a name he still holds 15 years later.
But it’s 1941 and Raymond isn’t dancing now... instead, he is away fighting in North Africa while his pregnant and determined wife Nancy harbours controversial plans to balance her new position as Head of Housekeeping at the Buckingham Hotel with life as a mother.
But as the war rages on, a vibrant personality from Raymond’s past arrives on Nancy’s doorstep, asking for work at the hotel, and as dark secrets rise to the surface, the very heart of the Buckingham comes under threat... will tragedy strike?
The Paris Affair delivers the same heady mix of real social and British history with a story full of nostalgia, suspense, romance and intrigue as the hotel staff battle to keep the residents happy, the music playing and the dancers dancing.
And Du Beke – whose research and inspiration came from speaking to war veterans – doesn’t put a foot wrong as he whisks readers round the opulent ballroom, through the humble staff quarters, and into the luxurious guest rooms for another helping of dance, loves, losses and emotion-packed dramas.
As always, the cast of flamboyant characters from all walks of life – not least the feisty Nancy and some new Buckingham players including black American bandleader Max Allgood – take leading roles as a stranger in their midst blows the lid off some perilous, long-buried secrets.
Enjoy music, rhythm and some of the author’s trademark fancy footwork in this captivating story full of friendship, family and camaraderie, but readers can also expect some gritty period detail of London’s nightly bombardments and Du Beke’s sharp insight into the fears of a country plunged deep into its second European war in twenty years.
A time-travelling dance of delights!
(Orion, hardback, £20)