I originally discovered Downie's writing through his deliciously evocative food and travel books, so was most curious to read his fiction. It was equally thrilling, albeit in a completely different genre.
Paris is affectionately nicknamed "The City of Light." But where there's light, there's inevitably shadow. Like many expat writers, Downie knows his adopted turf better than many locals -- witness the spot-on description of Jim Morrison's gravesite or a seedy barber shop near the Pantheon -- and he illuminates those hidden recesses, painting a vivid chiaroscuro portrait of the shady Parisian underbelly. Paris, City of Night recalls the complex political intrigues of Le Carré, the shadowy ambiance of Ambler, the psychological insight of Simenon, the cat-and-mouse tension of Highsmith... yet showcases Downie's unique voice and pitch-perfect perspective on his adopted city. And his prose is relentlessly entertaining (or entertainingly relentless). His recipe mixes secret Daguerreotype codes, embittered Cold Warriors, terrorists, and a somewhat reluctant, ambivalent "son of a spook" hero -- with a soupcon of sex and even spicier political commentary.
After reading this twisting compulsive CIA actioner, you'll never think of Paris in quite the same way.
For a sunnier view of his expat hometown, I recommend reading Downie's ode in essay form (Paris Paris) or one of his marvelous cookbooks (which also include delectable details of local flavor as well as flavors).