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Independent Press Award

2024 Distinguished Favorite

Bistro Nights

David Benjamin

Steve and Mie are a pair of globetrotting journalists, based in Paris, who make up fanciful stories about strangers they see at nearby tables in bistros, bars and brasseries. When they start spinning yarns about a waitress, Mireille, and a down-and-out American novelist named Cavendish, they find themselves peeking into a pair of tempestuous love triangles.

One love storm—among Mireille, her possessive lover Serge, and Cavendish—takes place in present-day Paris. The other ill-starred romance forms the plot of Apache Dance, Cavendish’s work-in-progress. His novel harks back to the Paris underworld a century ago, when gangsters—known evocatively as apaches—commanded the streets.

Bistro Nights intertwines the troubled trio of Mireille, Serge and Cavendish with the fictional triangle of Fifine and Nick, chief of an apache gang, and Fifine’s heartsick secret admirer, Maxim.

The contemporary drama of Cavendish and Mireille, hounded by a jealous Serge and observed—off and on—by two nosy journalists, leads the reader through an intimate tour of real-life Parisian restaurants and cafés, from Le Petit St.-Benoit to the Rosebud Bar. Meanwhile, flashing back in time, Bistro Nights unveils vividly the spectacle and squalor of a bygone Parisian demimonde.

As he struggles with his love for the unattainable Mireille, Cavendish finds inspiration in Serge—whose jealousy and violence are the model for Nick, in Apache Dance. The sad Maxim, of course, is Cavendish’s own alter ego.

Nick holds Fifine in his brutish thrall. Maxim prepares a desperate, fateful measure to save the woman he loves. But then, after a botched and bloody carjacking, a police dragnet forces Nick into hiding long enough for Fifine to escape. Or does she?

As these twin triangles mount to separate climaxes, Steve and Mie find their own cool and stagnant romance rekindled and they tumble irresistibly toward the heat, lust, grace and danger of the danse apache.

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