The Same River Twice by Ted Mooney

Ted Mooney has crafted an intricate narrative labyrinth of intersecting realities, visible, but more often invisible, in The Same River Twice. His character's perceptions of high-stress events unraveling within and around them in Paris and, particularly, along La Seine, on a boat named Nachtvlinder, become so blurred at times, so ambiguous, that surreality is perception (and vice versa) in Mooney's character's collective eyes.

The novel, on its surface, focuses on art smuggling, and the violent, reverberating consequences spreading out from the original high crime in waves of interpersonal disconnectedness and conflict and, ultimately, brutal betrayals, when one of the original smugglers mysteriously disappears. The smuggler's disappearance, however, involves a powerful secret that could literally change the world, and everyone from respected art dealers to the Russian Mafia to the Paris police in riot gear, are hot on his dubious trail.

The plot's as complexly convoluted as the catacombs of Paris, which play a vital role in the novel, the catacombs - be it underground rave sponsored by French government rebels from the local Arrondissement, or Mooney's subtle commentary on the underground-ecstasy-enthusiasts-as-metaphor for what's happening up above, in a different Paris darkness of perceptions true and/or false, when the lights of the Eifell Tower are turned off - and once your eyes adjust to the multi-hued darkness' of Mooney's impressive, Parisian underworlds and shadowy above-ground worlds (who exactly are the good guys and the bad guys, if any?, or are they all both good and bad?), filled with gorgeous prose and allusions adding nuanced layers of subtext, the careful reader will be glued to the book, searching for the hidden clues and secrets, which when they appear, seem so obvious that alighting upon the answers breeds a certain familiarity (I'm not joking) inducing déjà vu.

The characters? Max, the auteur, who, like a second narrator of sorts, stands outside the novel, filming the events of The Same River Twice as they occur, without a script; Odile, Max's wife, art smuggler on- the-side, the smuggler who doesn't disappear (or does she?); Turner, art dealer extraordinaire, in bed both literally and figuratively with simply too many of the wrong people; KuKushkin, full of vodka-induced anecdotes whose sobering prescience makes him almost a fortune teller; are a complicated and crafty lot, all of them, and more too many to mention by name. How Mooney fit them all together so seamlessly and so distinctively into his fast-paced, riveting, plot-pops-off-the-page like the artsy book cover, novel, I don't dare try and explicate.