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An eccentric Count who runs a famous Paris horror theatre, cursed with unexpected death . . . A beautiful young heiress and aspiring leading lady who just might be involved in the dark arts . . . An enigmatic gentleman whose shadowed past will at last be exposed. Their fates and hidden agendas intertwine in Sarah Smith’s compelling novel of an ancient house, dark arts, and love gone wrong–a murderous tale ...
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An eccentric Count who runs a famous Paris horror theatre, cursed with unexpected death . . . A beautiful young heiress and aspiring leading lady who just might be involved in the dark arts . . . An enigmatic gentleman whose shadowed past will at last be exposed. Their fates and hidden agendas intertwine in Sarah Smith’s compelling novel of an ancient house, dark arts, and love gone wrong–a murderous tale unfolding in the shadow of the guillotine. . . .
How do you tell your baby you have committed murder?
Murder didn't define Alexander Reisden any more. He had got over being
guilty of it (got over, he thought, as one might get over a heavy cold);
he was well, more or less. But in his work, he saw how murder affects
families. It is a disease, claiming victim after victim. And Toby was so
little, and Toby's fingers, with the perfect little nails, grasped his
father's thumb so trustingly; and Reisden adored his baby boy; and
someday, some terrible day, Toby would know.
Toby might forgive him, might perfectly understand. But how would it
Reisden had committed his murder at eight years old. He had had excuses;
it had been necessary; but no one knows that when he is eight years old.
Toby would learn, but Reisden desperately wanted to save him from it until
he was much older than eight.
This was morbid. Toby was only seven and a half months old. You could have
held him up and said into his face "Your papa killed his grandfather," and he would only have giggled and tried to grab your nose.
He wanted, really, never to tell Toby anything, never to let anyone tell
Toby; he wanted Toby never to hear about mad William Knight or William's
grandson or the horrors that can happen to children. He wanted to keep his
There is a story like this, about loving parents and a curse and all the
spindles in a kingdom, but Reisden didn't know it. He only knew a father
is supposed to protect his child.
So should a mother, Reisden reflected, and Perdita wasn't protect-
The first thing she'd said after Toby was born was how glad Gilbert would
be. She wrote to Gilbert every week. She sent news of Toby,
pictures of Toby, a curl of Toby's baby hair bound with thread. Don't,
Reisden thought silently, my G-d, don't curse Toby with Gilbert Knight.
Gilbert had the discretion to keep away, but Perdita insisted on writing.
Reisden snapped at her about her eyesight, which was not fair. Perdita
insisted on going out in the Paris streets with nothing but Toby and her
white cane. "Let him go with his nurse."
"But I like getting out," she said mildly, "and I must learn the streets."
"Not with him."
"Don't you believe I would be careful, Alexander?"
He did not believe it. She was not careful. She could see only colors and
shadows; she could push Toby's pram out into the street, not seeing the
bus or the horse that would kill them both. He could feel the impact in
his own flesh. He was terrified for his son; sometime, somehow, something
terrible would happen to his son.
She is risky, he thought once of the intelligent, stubborn, beautiful girl
he had loved before she had become his son's mother. It saddened him. He
This was morbidity too; this, he thought, was perhaps murder itself, the
slow death that murder leaves in families.
"Are you afraid for your children?" he asked other fathers. Yes, they
said, of course they were.
It was as close as Reisden could come to talking about what was wrong with
Financial security, at least, one can give.
General Lucien PÈtiot looked like Father Christmas in a sky blue uniform;
he had a cloud white beard and twinkling blue eyes and was in charge of
procurement (Medical Section) for the French army. General PÈtiot bought
miles of bandages, barrels of mercurochrome, trainloads of cough
pastilles—and tests for the French army. Intelligence tests, tests of
mental competence; every man in France served three years in uniform, and
the army needed to identify potential officers and potential problems.
They had just decided to centralize.
Reisden's company, Jouvet Medical Analyses, did competency testing for the
courts and specialized neurological testing for hospitals all over Europe.
Jouvet could administer Berthet's intelligence test to large groups. In
September 1910, just after Toby was born, Reisden first approached PÈtiot.
"We want to supply medical tests and neurological work to the army."
"You're an ambitious man."
"I have a son."
For six months the men ate lunches and dinners together, spent
afternoons talking about the state of medicine in France, traded opinions,
deplored the government, and tested each other. PÈtiot toured Jouvet's
half-completed building, under reconstruction after the Paris floods. "You
want the money," PÈtiot said, admiring the expensive new lab. "I want the
job," Reisden said. "Let me talk to your staff," PÈtiot said. Through the
winter, PÈtiot became as familiar at Jouvet as the concierge's cat, poking
his nose into staff meetings, sniffing at a technician's bench, hovering
outside the locked door of the famous Jouvet medical archives.
On a cold day at the beginning of April, PÈtiot came to Reisden's office
at Jouvet and dropped his bomb.
"There's only one trouble with Jouvet's proposal, Reisden: it's you. Your
They were sitting on packed boxes of books in the middle of chaos, the
wallpaper half up, the paneling still tacky with varnish, the air damp
with the smell of wet plaster.
"This is a bad time politically," PÈtiot said. "Germany threatens us, with
Spain and Austria-Hungary behind her; the French army is small and
underprepared; and at that very moment, the most intelligent of von
Loewenstein's Orphans decides he wants to throw in his lot with us. One
wonders what you mean by it. Isn't that what Leo von Loewenstein used to
"The Orphans are a myth."
"A myth, oh dear, yes," said PÈtiot. "But one of the mythical Orphans owns
a French company that does medical analysis, of a kind that would give it
access to embarrassing information about army men, government officials."
PÈtiot frowned. "Certain people are very distressed."
1. At the beginning of this novel, Alexander announces his distrust of Perdita, his blind and "risky" wife. Do you think he truly learns to trust and accept her? Why or why not?
2. Perdita has sacrificed a great deal in the name of her family. Does Alexander truly appreciate the extent of her sacrifices? Can Perdita reconcile herself to these sacrifices and move forward?
3. Will Perdita ever think of Paris as home?
4. Alexander and Andre are both struggling to find their home in the world. How do you define home?
5. This novel opens with a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke: "We are born, so to speak, provisionally, it doesn't matter where. It is only gradually that we compose within ourselves our true place of origin." Do you agree? Or do you think we are prisoners of our past?
6. Alexander and Gilbert are both haunted by William Knight. Do you think they finally manage to exorcise his ghost?
7. Alexander tells Perdita, "I am sorry. I am more than you bargained for." Have you ever felt this way? How did you deal with it?
8. After overhearing Perdita tell their son his secrets, Alexander vows to teach his son "that one can be wrong without being vile and right without being God." What has Alexander finally learned?
9. The families in this novel have been fractured and reconstituted in many different ways--death, adoption, rediscovery. How do you de-fine family?
10. Do you think Toby will have the happy family that his parents and uncle want so desperately for him?
11. Andre is very cruel to a wife who truly loves him. What do you think of Andre's treatment of Sabine?Does she deserve it?
12. What do you make of Sabine? Is she a monster or a spoiled child or a gifted witch?
13. Why did Andre's mother make that fateful final decision?
14. Will Andre be able to carry on with his role as Necrosar at the Grand Necropolitan? Or has the reckoning with his past robbed him of the need and ability to be Necrosar?
15. How do you define a citizen of a country? Is it based purely on legal documentation?
16. Cyron has become a national hero and symbol, but at what cost?
17. What do you think Cyron's intentions were when Alexander confronted him in his office? Do you think Cyron would have shot Alexander if Gilbert had not intervened?
18. Many characters in this novel are forced to choose between their personal lives and their duty to their nation. Under what circumstances does duty to country supercede duty to family and vice versa?
19. Did you figure out the secret of Montfort?
20. One reviewer has commented, "Smith defines even her minor characters clearly and crisply." Which of the minor characters was most memorable for you?
21. When this novel ends, the outbreak of World War I is only a few years away. What do you imagine will be the fate of these characters in the midst of this devastating war?
22. This novel is the concluding volume in a trilogy. Have you read the other novels? How does this one compare? If not, do you plan to read the other volumes?
23. Overall, how does your group rate this novel? How does it compare with other works your book group has read?
24. What is your group reading next? How do you decide what books to read?
Posted December 9, 2008
There is a dark foreboding of change is in the air, leaving a state of uneasiness settling throughout Europe in 1911. To restrain Germany, France and Russia have formed an alliance. However, Germany will go to any length to destroy that pact. The enigmatic Baron Alexander Von Reisden owns the very advanced mental institution, Jouvet. Though Alexander is running from his own past, his patient files contains information that would shatter the Franco-Russian agreement. <P> As valuable as that data seems, the Germans seek something else at this moment. At Montfort Manor in Northeast France, the owner, a war hero, is doing extensive remodeling. The Germans want to know what secrets are being concealed beneath the walls of the chatelaine. They try to blackmail Alex into obtaining the buried 'treasures'. Alex will do whatever he needs to do to fulfill his role in destiny. <P>Although A CITIZEN OF THE COUNTRY is the final volume of a historical fiction trilogy (see THE VANISHED CHILD and KNOWLEDGE OF WATER), the novel remains an excellent stand-alone tale. The story line combines suspense, character analysis, and drama into an exciting thriller. Cast members from the previous stories return as more of their personal histories are revealed and the author provides hints as to their futures. As with her first two novels, Sarah Smith has written a notable book that will provide her much acclaim. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.