Looking for the first Kiki Button mystery?
April in Paris, 1921
“One of those rare debuts that absolutely wowed me. Exhilarating and atmospheric, perfectly capturing a post-war Paris where people of all types could drown their sorrows and become someone else, even if it’s just for a while. Lunney successfully combines mainstream mystery with spy intrigue, making for an intoxicating concoction, and Kiki is a powerful tour guide. If you like unusual heroines that are the perfect mix of moxie and vulnerability, you can’t go wrong with this one. I can’t wait for more adventures with the fascinating Kiki Button and her singular world.” Criminal Element
“Button is naughtier than Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher, as strong as Suzanne Arruda’s Jade del Cameron, and every bit as clever as Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope. This thoroughly entertaining, delightfully witty debut is imbued with Paris’ unique ambiance and will have readers eagerly awaiting Button’s next adventure.”
“Lunney’s vibrant picture of Paris, chock-full of flapper fashion and cameos of the Lost Generation, will leave readers eager for more.” Publishers Weekly
Kiki Button—war veteran, party girl, detective, and spy—finds that she can’t outrun her past exploits, even in the glittering world of Jazz Age Paris.
Paris in 1921 is the city of freedom, where hatless and footloose Kiki Button can drink champagne and dance until dawn. She works as a gossip columnist, partying with the rich and famous, the bohemian and strange, using every moment to create a new woman from the ashes of her war-worn self.
While on the modelling dais, Picasso gives her a job: to find his wife’s portrait, which has gone mysteriously missing. That same night, her spymaster from the war contacts her—she has to find a double agent or face jail. Through parties, whisky, and seductive informants, Kiki uses her knowledge of Paris from the Great War to connect the clues.
Set over the course of one springtime week, April in Paris, 1921 is a mystery that combines artistic gossip with interwar political history through witty banter, steamy scenes, and fast action.
Who is Kiki Button?
Terrasse de Cafe, 1925, Maurice-Louis Branger/Roger Viollet: the photo that inspired Kiki Button.
I adore this photo. Is it the seeming unconcern of the two women as they casually pose for the camera? Is it the way that it seems to encapsulate Paris life, with its coffee on the terrace tables? Is it the way it captures the spirit of the 1920s, with modern women solo, stylish and free? I have always wanted to be one of these women, drinking, writing, chatting, travelling – a street-side life, a bohemian life – I have tried my hardest, but it was never close enough. I had to live through my heroine, Kiki Button.
Kiki Button has been described by Catherine Milne at Harper Collins as
“entirely original… her fabulous clothes, her gaiety, her secret sadness, her appetite for life, her many and complicated loves… She’s the kind of character where you know underneath that fabulous, slightly unwashed dress she’s wearing, her stockings might be torn and her knees might be bruised, but she’ll always be laughing, tossing her hair back and cadging a cigarette off someone. She’s an original, the real deal. I adore her.” (full post here)
Kiki is the woman I would like to be if I lived in 1920s Paris. She is the daughter of a wealthy wool baron from outback New South Wales, Australia, and his posh English wife. While on holiday with relatives in London in 1914, she ran away from the parties to the Great War. She enlisted a a nurse, a Voluntary Aid Detachment, and saw more terror and joy that she bargained for. Her experience changed her. She can no longer sit around waiting for a husband who might, in any case, never arrive – she needs action! And the best action in 1921 is in Paris – home of the bohemian and brilliant, the wild and wilful, home to all the refuse from the war. She loved the city when on leave from her nursing duties, but now that she’s back without a uniform or a shred of responsibility, it is home.
Kiki and her adventure combines all my obsessions: war fiction and war’s long aftermath – interwar European politics – bohemian life – the 1920s and 1930s – modernism – jazz – vintage clothes and dancing – mystery stories – how to be an artist – how to be a modern woman – how to be free.
On this page, you’ll find a few books and images that helped me to write April in Paris, 1921. On the Instagram account Miss Kiki Button you’ll find even more. Explore, enjoy, and let me know what you find.
The book that started it all
Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900 – 1939 by Virginia Nicholson was my book research foray into the world of 20th century artistic life. I found her book when I was looking for a guide, a template, for reassurance on how to live a writing life. She is Virginia Woolf’s grandniece, Vanessa Bell’s granddaughter, and Quentin Bell’s daughter, and her anecdotes of British bohemia were witty, tender, and lyrical. This book changed by life. I’ve read it more than a dozen times and own two copies – one on permanent loan to someone (the ‘library’ copy) and one just for me (the ‘Bible’ copy). Her extensive reading list, as well as her perfectly placed extracts, started an imaginative journey that became an obsession.
Another book of Nicholson’s that has helped with this work is Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men after the First World War. Heartbreaking and inspiring, the work details how many British women, brought up to think of their destiny as only wives and mothers, had to battle poor pay and bad working conditions, loneliness and grief, to create lives that held joy, wonder, adventure and good work – with other women, of course.
Paris books – non-fiction:
These works are all about the Annees folles, the crazy years, of Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. But more than that, they each give a sense of how exciting Paris was then, how much of modern life was shaped in this time – and how the historical fact is often richer and more complex than the myth. Many of them have an anecdotal, story-telling style that make them as easy to read as a novel.
Paris Between the Wars: Art, Style and Glamour in the Crazy Years by Vincent Bouvet & Gerard Durozoi
Paris was a woman: Portraits from the Left Bank by Andrea Weiss
Flappers: Six women of a dangerous generation by Judith Mackrell
Expatriate Paris:A Cultural and Literary Guide to Paris of the 1920s by Arlen J. Hansen
Crucible: The Long End of the Great War and the Birth of the New World 1917-1924 by Charles Emmerson
The Vanquished: Why the First World War failed to end, 1917-1923 by Robert Gewarth
Paris books – Fiction:
I can hardly resist fiction set in 1920s Paris. Now that it’s research, I don’t need to! Below are some of the key texts I used to get into a 1920s, bohemian, Parisian, mood. They’re wildly different – 1920s classics, detective fiction, British, American and Australian.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
The Paris Wife by Paul McLain
the Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood
The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer
The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas by Gertrude Stein
Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
The spy novels of Alan Furst
A Picture Tells a Thousand Words
I don’t think it does, actually, but it can certainly inspire a thousand words. Some of the photographers who documented that time, or were themselves documented, give a wonderful insight into the daily life of Parisians in the 1920s. I’ve included a brief selection here, and I urge you to explore their entire body of work.