Reading Log: Hugger Mugger in the Louvre (Elliot Paul)

I sought out Hugger-Mugger in the Louvre, a late 1940s novel, as part of a reading challenge to read “a book that is about, or takes place, somewhere you want to visit.” Or, in this case, two places: various districts of Paris, in general, and the Louvre in particular.

Hugger-Mugger in the Louvre is the 2nd in a series (the first is rather intrusively recapped in the early pages of this novel) of humorous mystery novels featuring Homer Evans, a master sleuth firmly in the mould of Sherlock Holmes and a motley assortment of secondary characters ranging from Lvov Kvev, a burly Russian taxi-driver to le Singe (the Monkey), urbane leader of the St Julien Rollers gang. The names of many characters alone should give you an idea of the madcap, Marx Brothers style antics that fill this novel—Hyacinthe Toudoux, Sergeant Schlumberger, the single-monikered Hydrangea—not to mention the chapter titles, whose wordiness echoes Paul’s prose style: “The Quick, The Dead, and Some Others In Between” and “A Sock Filled with Sand, and Joyce’s Ulysses” for example.

The plot, which involves the theft of a small Watteau painting (“L’Indifférent”, here called “The Pansy” in a bit of outdated humor) from the Louvre eventually involves scientists feuding over the effects of French vs Californian wine on the liver, the doctor and proprietor of an asylum imprisoning a toothless American and a Marchionesse in order to profit from a stock-manipulation scheme and an extortion scheme, respectively, an importer/exporter/smuggler named Xerxes using a stuffed monkey as a dead drop…well, you probably get the picture.

The fun of this novel lies in its zany confusion, a kind of mad-dash of humor of larger-than-life characters that doesn’t seem to exist anymore. That very quality, though, will make it a disappointment to those who read mysteries for—well—their mystery, and it can become tedious if not in the right mood. In small doses, though, this is a fun read even if it doesn’t leave you thirsting for more in the series.

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