The Alliance of the Curious
Story and art: Philippe Riche
Review by John Anderson
The Alliance of the Curious is the story of three Parisian antique dealers who band together to solve an unusual mystery. They have found a reliquary containing a 25 000 year old Neanderthal skull, and a strand of hair that is also Neanderthal but dates from the present day. Meanwhile, a homeless man is having visions of the past, each successive vision being from an earlier point in history. Could a real Neanderthal be living in modern day Paris?
The blurb on the back cover describes this book as “‘The Da Vinci Code’ on acid.” I wouldn’t go that far, but it is a cool mystery involving an ancient conspiracy around the history of Paris and the fortune of the kings of France. There is plenty of action including an amusing car chase and the climax in the catacombs beneath Paris. Each memory that the nameless homeless man has reveals something else about the history of Paris, and in the end he is led to fulfill a prophecy dating from the dawn of humanity.
My favourite characters are the “cocaine sisters”, three trash-talking bored rich girls who love violence, but don’t know how to use their weapons, which makes them even more dangerous. They shoot Kalashnikovs because “it saves time and effort”, but they can’t aim and are liable to kill the wrong person by mistake. They are a lot of fun and I was sorry to see them meet their well-deserved fate. I was also intrigued by Charles, the homeless man who makes money by selling memories that he writes down on scraps of paper. There’s a nice contrast between him and the nameless homeless man, who is trying to regain his memories.
The three protagonists are less memorable, although there is some nice interaction in the second half, as one of them is having trouble following the plot and just wants to eat. I think the ill-defined protagonists are the biggest problem with this book. In fact, I know the names of only two of the three protagonists – if the third was named, I don’t remember it. I would have liked to be engaged in these three people’s lives so I had a stake in their survival. Should I be rooting for the villains at the expense of the heroes?
Another problem is the infodump sequence in the second half of the book, where two characters on television reveal parts of the plot to each other. On the other hand, it is important information and I’m glad it was placed toward the end of the story rather than the beginning, where it would drag things down.
What I love most about Riche’s art is the colour; every scene has a dominant colour, with lots of interplay of light and shadow. The memory sequences are beautifully done with only two colours, which gives them extra weight and significance.
The story is not complicated, but it is very well told. I like the placement of the memories and how they break up the story. On rereading, these scenes, including the flood of 1910 and an attack from Normans in 885, take on a more significant role in the story. The ending is very strong, with some surprising revelations in the catacombs and an open-ended resolution.
The Alliance of the Curious is an entertaining, intriguing mystery. I think this is Riche’s first work to be published in English, and I look forward to reading more.