By: Catherine Delors
Publisher: Dutton (Penguin Group)
Publication Date: July 8, 2010
Reviewed by: Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D.
Review Date: July 11, 2010
Suicide bombers in Republican Paris? Plus ça change…. The more things change, the more they stay the same. For the King is a police procedural novel. Think CSI, but with the Eiffel Tower in the background instead of the casinos of Las Vegas or the bridges of Manhattan.
It’s December 24, 1800, according to the old calendar, Year Nine of the Republic, the third of Nivose in the revolutionary calendar. The French Revolution began eleven years ago, the Terror, seven years ago, and they’re still using Madame Guillotine (and firing squads, too). A general named Bonaparte has been winning battles throughout Europe and has recently taken on the title First Consul of the First French Republic (he won’t crown himself emperor until 1804). Meanwhile, two groups are out to assassinate him: the Jacobins (extreme revolutionaries) and the Royalists who want to restore the monarchy and install Louis XVIII on the throne.
As the story opens, three men drive a wagon filled with gunpowder along Rue Nicaise in Paris, the very route Napoleon will take that night on his way to the opera. The three men park the wagon, find a young female street vendor to hold the mare’s bridle, and wait for the First Consul. But their timing is poor, and when they set off the bomb, the explosion kills numerous passers-by and leaves a crater in the street. But their target is already at the opera.
“My telling of the search for the assassins,” Catherine Delors, a French attorney with an international practice, writes in her historical note, “often considered the first modern police investigation, is based upon the archives of the Ministry and Prefecture of Police in Paris” (pg. 331). Our hero is Citizen Chief Inspector Miquel, a loner whose mistress is a member of the ci-devant aristocracy (the aristocrats “before now”). Miquel is assigned the case, but the police department is corrupt, and Miquel has to deal with a Prefect who is less competent than Sherlock Holmes’s Inspector Lestrade (well, let’s say he’s as smart as Inspector Clouseau), corrupt politicians, and fellow cops who are both stupid and sadistic. Unlike our modern detective stories, there’s no question of rights in this book. Witnesses and suspects alike are intimidated, threatened, and tortured as Riquel races with the clock to solve the crime. As in some other modern detective stories, we know who the assassins are, so the interest in this novel is the cat-and-mouse chase and how Miquel does his job.
Quill says: If you enjoy detective stories and police procedurals and also like those stories when they’re set in, say, classical Rome or medieval England, then this is a book you’ll want to read.