For the King
by Catherine Delors
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
For the King is a gritty, intense, elegantly written literary thriller based on real events. On Christmas Eve 1800, a cart filled with explosives blew up on Napoleon's route, the crowded Rue Nicaise, while he was on his way to attend an opera performance. Though the explosion came slightly too late to injure Napoleon himself, numerous bystanders were killed and maimed. Characters in the novel include the actual conspirators along with fictional characters who bring the story to life by filling in gaps in the historical record.
For Chief Inspector Roch Miquel, the assassination attempt touches off simmering tensions he has been happy to ignore. His father, whose free and passionate tongue worries Roch, is among the Parisians who despise Napoleon as a betrayer of the Revolution. Administrative changes have muddied the Police Department's command structure: Roch's boss and patron, the Minister of Police, has lost some of his former authority to an incompetent new Police Prefect. Napoleon himself, it appears, would prefer to blame the attack on the violent Jacobins who lost power during his rise, rather than a Chouan faction plotting to restore the monarchy. Roch suspects, and the reader knows, that Chouan royalists are behind the plot. But they elude capture, time after time, until the pressure for Roch to either bring in the real culprits or join the hue and cry after innocent parties rises to a pitch of desperation. If that weren't enough, his father wants him to marry a friend's daughter, while Roch has eyes only for his beautiful, ardent new mistress.
Vivid, energetic writing makes both characters and setting spring from the page. Although the cover design suggests a women's novel, the tense, unflinchingly realistic style of For the King and its focus on the hunt for the killers are likely to give it strong appeal for masculine readers as well. (2010; 335 pages, including a Historical Note separating fact from fiction)
More about For the King at Powell's Books or Amazon.com
Interview with author Catherine Delors
Other thrillers featuring police detectives at the turn of the 19th century:
Susanne Alleyn, Game of Patience, about an unofficial police investigator in post-Revolutionary Paris trying to find out who killed a blackmailer and his former lover; #1 in the Aristide Ravel mystery series.
Armand Cabasson, The Officer’s Prey (2007), a thriller about a French officer investigating a murder during Napoleon's Russian campaign; #1 in the Quentin Margont mystery series.
James McGee, Rapscallion, a thriller about an investigator with London's Bow Street Runners who must investigate a rumored smuggling operation aboard French ships converted into brutal jails for prisoners of war during the Napoleonic Wars; #3 in the Matthew Hawkwood series. Review
Nonfiction about the plot and the Paris police under Napoleon:
Conspiracy in Paris by David Darrah (1953). More info
Napoleon's Police by Peter de Polnay (1970). More info
"The Infernal Machine" about the Christmas Eve plot to assassinate Napoleon.
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