Paris in 1909 was at its height of the Belle Époque - a period during which the city experienced a surge of hopefulness, peace and economic growth; a time when the arts rapidly developed in new and exciting ways. Europeans flooded the city to take in the aura of affluence, wonder and exotic entertainment. There was also, by contrast, the existence of a large lower socio-economic class particular to Paris, who lived in its densely poverty-stricken slums, and who would never glimpse the gilded life of the Belle Époque.
The Paris Winter follows the stories of three women each at different social levels: Maud Heighton, an Englishwoman desperately seeking to develop her talent as a painter- she would spend everything for her art and in the process, literally starve for the dream of such a career; Wealthy Russian debutante Tanya Koltsova also studying art at the famous Lafond Académie - she lives under strict supervision of her matronly aunts, moves in high societal circles and is driven around Paris by a personal chauffeur; and Yvette who sits in as a model at the Académie- her knowledge and experience of the urban, darker, seedier side of Paris are perfectly hidden under her flawless exterior.
These three lives get tangled in a vast web of deception, fraud and mortal danger that takes them from the grand salon of Gertrude Stein, discussing nouveau art of the likes of Picasso, to the underbelly of Paris, where characters resembling Dickens' Fagin and the pickpockets of Oliver Twist subsist.
Reading about this mismatched trio gave me the impression of Charlie's Angels, a sort of French version of the heroines, moving about the city in unidentifiable guises and plotting vengeance.
The novel isn't heavily plotted; in some places, it is ridiculously simple, but the author kept the reader's interest with descriptions of Paris' allure and beauty, historically famous artistic figures and a disastrous event relevant to that period. In short, The Paris Winter held up a decent level of entertainment that was an easy, light weekend read.