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It had been one of the shortest days of the Year Nine of the Republic, the 3rd of the month of Nivose in the revolutionary calendar. The 24th of December 1800, old style. Christmas Eve, as they used to say before the Revolution. Night had long fallen on Rue Nicaise. People were beginning to call it Rue Saint-Nicaise again, for saints were reappearing in everyday language. A few hundred yards away, the lights at the windows of the Palace of the Tuileries glowed dim through the fog.
Passersby, wrapped in coats, hurried home, their workday over. Some, smartly dressed, were going to the houses of friends to celebrate the ancient holiday with a réveillon, the traditional Christmas Eve feast. In the Café d’Apollon, patrons were drinking and cheering.
The shops were still open. The glove maker’s pregnant wife, her two-year-old boy clutching her skirts with both hands, leaned against her counter. She chatted with her maid, who was peeling carrots and turnips in preparation for the feast. The tailor next door was cutting a piece of fabric laid on his workbench. Across the street, the watchmaker, a magnifying lens to his eye, inserted a spring into a timepiece. Musicians, recognizable by the odd-shaped cases they carried, hurried in the direction of the brightly lit Longueville mansion. They had been hired for a lavish party there.
In spite of the damp chill, people on Rue Nicaise kept their doors and windows open to see the carriage of Napoléon Bonaparte, the First Consul, pass by.
France had been a Republic since 1792. King Louis XVI had been guillotined. General Bonaparte, since seizing power a year ago and becoming the First Consul, had settled in the royal Palace of the Tuileries. He liked to drive around Paris in a carriage drawn by six white horses, accompanied by a guard of soldiers, at the sound of trumpets, drums artillery salvos.
Tonight, however, there would be no such military pomp. The newspapers had announced that the First Consul was simply to attend the première of The Creation of the World, by Haydn, at the Opera. It was the most anticipated musical event of the season, and tickets sold for twice the usual price.
Joseph de Limoëlan was well informed of this. He had read and reread all the details in every newspaper, though he did not plan on attending the show. Indeed he was not dressed for an evening at the Opera.
Whip in hand, coarse trousers and a loose jacket disguising his tall, slender frame, he led a horse-drawn cart down the street. A gray tarpaulin came down to the hubs of its wheels. Clouds of mist blew out of the nag’s nostrils with each of its breaths. Another man, Pierre de Saint-Régent, also slightly built, his brows knit, walked by the side of the cart, his mouth tight. A third companion, François Carbon, strutted close behind on his short, sturdy legs, and stared at every woman they passed. The three men were dressed in matching blue jackets, coarsely embroidered around the neck in red and white.
Limoëlan stopped the cart in front of the Café d’Apollon. He had surveyed one last time the whole length of the street that afternoon, and determined this was the narrowest spot. But Saint-Régent’s frown became more pronounced.
“No, this light won’t do at all,” he hissed, nodding in the direction of the café. Its windows projected bright yellow rectangles that illuminated this entire stretch of the street.
Limoëlan, without a word, pulled on the horse’s bridle. The animal snorted and set forth reluctantly. They moved the cart thirty yards down Rue Nicaise, at the intersection of Rue de Malte. It was darker there, and the other street provided an escape route, should any of them escape.
Limoëlan stopped the cart sideways to impede the flow of traffic. Other drivers pulled on their reins, swerved and cursed at the three men, who ignored the volleys of insults. Each in turn went into the Café d’Apollon and, grim-faced, gulped down in silence mug after mug of wine.Their purpose was firm, of course, and they were entirely devoted to the holiest of causes. Yet such is human frailty that even the bravest fear death. Had not some of the saints themselves, though assured of the rewards that awaited them in eternal life, recoiled from the glory of martyrdom?
The three men, braced by their visit to the Café d’Apollon, gathered again around the cart. Limoëlan spoke in a low voice to his companions and left in the direction of the Seine River. Carbon seized the bridle of the horse and looked around. He whistled at a young woman, who hurried away.
Limoëlan walked along the embankment that followed the Louvre galleries. He paused, took off his gold-rimmed spectacles and wiped them with a checkered handkerchief. He groaned with impatience. How was he to find what he wanted in this fog? He pushed to the Pont-Royal, the “Liberty Bridge,” as the scoundrels now had the impudence to call it. He crossed the river. On the Left Bank, he recognized the massive outline of the former Hackneys’ Office, which had recently been turned into barracks. Among the flow of the passersby, he finally distinguished two slight figures standing under a streetlight by the entrance. Children, apparently. He approached. Now he could see their skirts. Two girls, little street vendors, stomping their feet in the cold. Each carried a wicker tray, attached by a leather strap to her shoulder.
Limoëlan paused. Either girl would do, but he only needed one. It bothered him to make that choice. Then, when he drew very close, he saw that the tray of one of the street vendors still contained a few cakes and biscuits. The other girl had already sold all of her wares and was apparently waiting for her companion to be done. No doubt it was a sign. She was the chosen one.
Limoëlan addressed her gently. A smile lit her pockmarked face when he put a silver coin in her hand. She giggled, slipped the strap above her head and handed the other girl her empty tray.
“Take it home to Mama, will you?” she said in a cheerful tone.
As the girl followed Limoëlan across the river to Rue Nicaise, he turned around to glance at her bony frame, dressed in a tattered striped skirt. She was gathering around her neck the collar of a woolen coat. The sleeves were too short and left her wrists, red with cold, bare. How old was she? Twelve, thirteen? He had not asked her name. It did not matter. He shivered and resolved not to look at her again.
“Hurry, will you?” he said, looking straight ahead. “We haven’t all night.”
She pressed on and almost caught up with him. They joined the cart and the other men. Limoëlan gave the girl the bridle to hold.
“Remember, no matter what, the horse must not move at all,” he said as he handed her the whip. “It is very important, do you understand?”
She nodded. “Oh, don’t worry, Sir, I’ll be very, very careful.”
The horse was covered with sweat and kept its head down. It was content to sniff noisily at discarded cabbage leaves on the cobblestones and seemed in no mood to canter away. The girl waited, shifted her weight from one foot to the other, patted the horse’s neck, toyed with the whip. Limoëlan pulled his watch. The time was near. He exchanged a glance with Saint-Régent and nodded.
Limoëlan left to post himself at the intersection of Rue Nicaise and Place du Carrousel. Soon he saw a cortege of carriages leaving the Palace and heading his way. He shuddered. At last. He had waited so long for this moment. A few more seconds, and it would be all over. He knew he had to signal to Saint-Régent, but somehow his heart stopped and he was unable to raise his hand. He was still frozen, overcome by an emotion he could not define, when the first carriage passed him by and turned onto Rue Nicaise.
The girl looked up when she heard the rattling of wheels and the noise of hooves. She gaped at the squadron of dragoons in splendid uniforms surrounding the procession of elegant carriages. One of the guards of the escort, saber drawn, galloped ahead to the cart and shouted to move it out of the way. His horse shoved Saint-Régent against the wall of a house. The girl, her mouth still open, held on to the nag’s bridle. She was staring at the gold braid on the dragoon’s green jacket, at the horsetail that flowed down his back from his shiny helmet, at the claws of the spotted pelt that served as his saddle blanket. In her entire life she had never seen anything so strange and beautiful. She paid no attention to Saint-Régent, who had swiftly recovered his balance and reached under the tarpaulin.
But the coachman of the first carriage had noticed it all. He swore at the top of his voice, whipped his horses and drove away at a gallop. A blinding burst of light tore at the night. Thunder shook the air. The horses of the guards reared up, neighed wildly, slipped and fell. Cobblestones, roof tiles, parts of walls, entire chimneys, shards of glass, shreds of flesh were raining down on the street.
All that was left of the nag was the head, intact like a trophy, one front leg and one side of the chest and rump. Straw poked out from the remaining half of its leather collar.
Posted December 8, 2013
I knew I would enjoy this book for the very reason that it is historical fiction, and I love historical fiction. Especially historical fiction that is well-researched.
I was first taken in by this book because of the time period. I have always been fascinated by the French Revolution, but I was not too familiar with what happened after the French Revolution in Paris. Talk about it being the worst of times, maybe Charles Dickens should have written a book during that time period! It was horrid! I knew Napoleon was bad, but he made things worse than I imagined.
After the first few chapters, my interest waned. Delors is a fantastic authoress, but for the second quarter of the book, I was not as enthralled. I don't know why. I guess I just didn't care so much about the characters. Maybe the intrigue just didn't draw me in.
I remember that about a week ago, the plot took a twist that I wasn't expecting. That is when I was so drawn to the book that I did not want to put it down. I won't add any spoilers, but it concerns the character Blanche. And as I read on, the plot become even more intriguing. I now cared about what happened to Roch, the main character. I did not know if the ending would be happy or sad or a mix of both.
The best part of the book for me was when Delors described the historical authenticity of the book. Although she took artistic liberty, much of what she wrote was based on actual fact. The event around which the book is centered really happened. If you do decide to read the book, do not hesitate to read that section. There is even a United States tie-in that I never would have guessed.
In conclusion, I would recommend this book to most people with a taste for historical fiction. While I found a portion of it dry, the last half of the book made it very worth reading. The sex scenes are not graphic, for the most part. And profanity is very rare--I appreciated that. I think Delors has the power to write in such a way that you feel as though you are transported back in time and are living the events of the lives of the characters right along with them. Or at least you are watching from a safe spot close by. While it is not the best book I have ever read, it is well worth your time.
Posted July 10, 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.
Posted May 10, 2010
For the King
Dutton, Jul 8 2010, $26.95
In 1800 a bomb explodes on the road Napoleon travels. He survives the attempt, but the assassins kill dozens of bystanders. Police Chief Inspector Roch Miquel investigates the assassination attempt and the homicides, in which the culprits had no regard for the innocents.
His inquiry is hampered by his corrupt uncooperative peers. Even more of a handicap is his superior the Minister of Police Fouche, who incarcerates Roch's father on a phony charge to control his independent minded chief inspector. Feeling beleaguered and handcuffed with every step he takes, Roch turns to his married mistress Blanche Coudert for solace, but she conceals something that if it became public could leave the cop sharing a cell with his dad; that is if they are not deported or beheaded.
This is an excellent Napoleon Era French police procedural starring a dedicated chief inspector who feels frustrated with every inquiry he makes. The investigation is cleverly designed so that for every clue he follows someone interferes. With a sense of time and place to anchor the superb story line, readers who enjoy a strong historical whodunit will want to follow Roch's efforts to solve the mass murder assassination attempt.
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Posted June 23, 2011
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Posted July 18, 2010
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Posted October 15, 2011
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Posted January 3, 2012
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