Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

A City of Women

A hotel in Paris connects the stories of three formidable women

In All the Ways We Said Goodbye, Team W – the partnership nickname of bestselling authors Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White – embarks on a third collaborative novel. This time, the connecting strand running through the engrossing stories of three formidable women living in three different time periods is a place: the Ritz hotel in Paris.

Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, Karen White

The story opens in England in 1964, where Babs Langford is still grieving a year after her husband’s death. When a letter arrives from an American lawyer asking her assistance to solve a mystery involving his father and her husband during World War II, Babs is intrigued and, on a whim, decides to meet him at the Paris Ritz to find out more. Far from worldly, Babs is unprepared for her first glimpse of the hotel: “I stood blinking like the village idiot,” she describes, “unable to move forward as two opposing thoughts collided in my head simultaneously. The first was how opulent, how grand the crystal chandeliers, the thick rugs, the vases filled with elaborate floral arrangements, the gilded mirrors and the people walking through the palatial hall appeared to be. … The second was how absolutely out of place I was, how I had most certainly taken a wrong turn when I’d made the rash decision to shake myself from my melancholy. I should have opted for a weekend in the Cotswolds instead.”

Nevertheless, she stays in Paris and joins her new American friend in an investigation involving the French Resistance, the loss of a priceless historical artifact, and the true identity of “La Fleur,” the code name for a female Resistance legend whom Babs believes may have been the true love of her husband’s life.

From Babs, the story shifts to Aurélie, who lives with her mother, the flamboyant Comtesse de Courcelles, at the Ritz in 1914. The historical artifact in question — a jewel-encrusted pendant holding a scrap of cloth dipped in the blood of Joan of Arc — belongs to Aurélie’s noble family, and legend has it that France will never fall as long as the talisman remains in the possession of the Demoiselle de Courcelles. As the Germans close in on Paris, Aurélie decides to take the talisman and join her father at the family estate. Outside the hotel, she finds a city she hardly recognizes: “The few men on the streets were old or lame; the city had become a city of women, women with their heads down, hurrying along as if life were no longer something to be celebrated, but to be got through as quickly as possible,” she notes. “Cafes were shuttered, shops closed for want of proprietor and customers. It was as though Paris had the life drained out of it, a thin, pale version of itself.” Soon Aurélie realizes she has unwittingly put herself, her family, and the talisman in danger, and she must decide whether to trust an unlikely ally. 

The third and central story of the book belongs to Daisy, Aurélie’s daughter, who grows up at the Ritz with her grandmother. In 1942, as the Nazis occupy Paris, Daisy must choose between safety for herself and her children — provided by her husband’s eagerness to prosper by serving the Third Reich — and her duty to her country. As she walks to the Ritz, the timeless beauty of the city overwhelms her moral dilemma: “It was early May and Paris was blossoming in its heedless, abundant way, all buds and sunshine and sidewalks glossy from some recent shower, and when you drank in the air from the Tuileries it tasted of spring, as it did year after year, Germans or no Germans. What was the point in railing against fate? Against anything? It made no difference, except to get you in trouble.”

Team W has woven an intricate and surprising tale of loyalty when everything seems lost, bravery in the face of brutality, and love that always finds a way — all of it playing out against a backdrop of turbulent history and the ever-stalwart presence of the Paris Ritz.

A City of Women

Tina Chambers has worked as a technical editor at an engineering firm and as an editorial assistant at Peachtree Publishers, where she worked on books by Erskine Caldwell, Will Campbell, and Ferrol Sams, to name a few. She lives in Chattanooga.