In this ambitious and exciting work Richard Maxwell uses nineteenth century urban fiction- particularly the novels of Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens- to define a greater genre, the novel of urban mysteries. His title comes from the "mystery mania" that captured both sides of the channel.

In The Mysteries of Paris and London Maxwell employs a sweeping vision of the nineteenth century and a formidable grasp of both popular culture and high culture to decode popular mysteries of the era and to reveal man's evolving consiousness of the city. His style is elegant and lucid. It is a book for anyone curious about the fortunes of the novel in the nineteenth century, the cultural history of that period, particularly in France and England, the relations between art and literature, or the power of the written word to produce and present social knowledge.