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Sex, drugs, and chain-smoking Parisians abound in Collin Kelley’s new novel Remain in Light (Vanilla Heart Publishing), the cinematic sequel to his popular first novel Conquering Venus, and the second in the Venus trilogy. Depending on the page, Remain in Light is a mystery, suspense thriller, romance, or a work of glam or literary fiction. Blending genres this way can be a challenge for writers and some readers, but Collin does it so deftly the reader is happy to go along for the ride.
Kelley opens his novel with a goodbye letter from Martin (the conflicted male lead character in Conquering Venus) to his left-behind lover David. The letter clearly serves as a device to get readers caught up from the end of Conquering Venus to the current-day world of Remain in Light. It’s a risky choice to begin a novel with a letter, but it works due to its mysterious tone—the P.S. reads “I still have a scar on my forehead from the bomb.”
The novel follows Irène Laureux’s search for answers to her husband’s unsolved murder that occurred during the Paris student and worker riots, nearly thirty years ago. Realizing that Frederick Dubois—her husband’s secret lover—knows how and why Jean-Louis was murdered, Irène enlists the help of her friend Martin Paige (an American writer) who seems permanently damaged from the now-ended love affair he had with his student David McLaren. While helping Irene piece together the past, Martin’s world is turned upside down when his friend, Diane Jacobs, arrives in Paris with news that David has gone missing.
Kelley demonstrates a mastery for pacing, never lingering for too long on one subplot, character, place, or emotion. Just as soon as we’ve grown comfortable in an apartment in Paris, we shift to a home in Memphis, and then we’re off to London.
Irène, like the novel itself, is unpredictable, and that’s what makes her so fascinating. The reader wonders, is she dangerous? Trustworthy? Self-serving? Manipulative? A woman scorned? Probably all of the above. “Are you having trouble sleeping, Martin?” she asks at one point. “I can give you one of my pills.”
It’s this tense but winking tone that raises Remain in the Light above your average genre offering. At one point the narrator says, “Paris was a blessing and a curse. Like the bomb that ripped through the train station that day at Notre-Dame, the trip to Paris had exploded Diane and Martin out of their routines. Hit the reset button on their lives.”
While distinctive, the narrator is never intrusive. Kelley has created volatile characters, placed them in front of jaw-dropping backdrops (Paris has never been more alluring), and allows them to detonate, but he somehow manages to clean up the scene of the crime by the last page.
The novel pays great tribute to Paris (and London) and could be read as a literary homage to La Ville-Lumière. Similarly, Kelley has a strong eye for aesthetics, creating a constant mood that reads like a celebration of classic film noir or French New Wave cinema. After each chapter, you expect Luc Besson or François Truffaut to step into the novel and yell, “Cut!”
Kelley makes many solid choices as a writer (including infusing the emotional aftermath of Princess Diana’s death into some of his character’s lives) in this fantastic novel. Filled with what-will-they-say-next characters, a suspenseful pace, and intertwining plots Remain in Light is a wickedly fun read.
Remain in Light
By Collin Kelly
Vanilla Heart Publishing