Lily Graham’s latest novel, The Last Restaurant in Paris, begins in 1980s France, where living memories of World War Two are slowly fading to just the older generations of the population. Yet when a young librarian, Sabine Dupris, inherits a restaurant from her biological grandmother that she previously did not know existed, she is suddenly transported back to her family’s dark past in Nazi-occupied Paris.
Not quite the extravagant inheritance from a long-lost relative we all dream of, Sabine learns that this restaurant comes with a tragic story – it was where her grandmother, Marianne Blanchet, deliberately poisoned a number of guests during the German occupation of Paris. Desperate to uncover the reasons behind these infamous murders, Sabine seeks answers from ageing bookshop owner, Gilbert Géroux, who knew Marianne well and whose little brother, Henri, was one of those poisoned in the restaurant. As the two begin to uncover new revelations about what occurred before and during that fateful night, they find out that the story is much more complex than it seems.
A thoroughly gripping read, The Last Restaurant in Paris is centred on unravelling this wartime mystery. Not to identify the murderer – clearly, everybody already knows the culprit here – but to truly understand the reasons behind the crime. To do this, Graham elegantly switches between different timelines, detailing Sabine and Gilbert’s efforts to demystify the past and recounting Marianne’s eventful backstory, which together reveal the truth behind the poisonings, transforming Marianne from a one-dimensional fairy-tale villain to a human who was irreversibly shaped by the complexities and tragedies of war.
Thanks to the earlier timeline, we are fully immersed in Marianne’s journey from her childhood onwards. Through vivid descriptions of hearty home-cooked meals and breath-taking lavender fields (which, despite the otherwise sorrowful tone of the novel, will certainly inspire future holidays to Provence), we begin to see Marianne as what she once was: a loving granddaughter and the sweetheart of her charming childhood best friend. However, we soon learn, along with Sabine and Gilbert, how quickly this idyllic life was brought crashing down by horror, sadness, and the atrocities of the impending war. Suddenly it is impossible not to sympathise with the murderer, Marianne. But the question remains: do two wrongs make a right? Can the evil of others wash away the blood on Marianne’s own hands?
An emotional exploration of morality and justice, The Last Restaurant in Paris by Lily Graham forces us to look outside of the traditional good and evil binary, and actively inspect our beliefs about what is right and what is wrong. Both thought-provoking and engaging, this novel is the perfect read for fans of historical romance or those interested in exploring the complexities of French collaboration and resistance during the Second World War.