Fiscal crisis. Social tension. Political ferment. The years just prior to the French Revolution were filled with conflict, although many chose to ignore the signals of the coming storm. The Palais-Royal was the scene of much gaiety and a constant round of pleasures—perfect cover for darker activities such as the murder of a Parisian actress. That same evening, her lover, Antoine Dubois, died in a fatal fall. Was his death a suicide brought on by guilt, or an accident?
Word of Antoine’s death is carried to his stepdaughter, Anne Cartier, a young vaudeville actress with the Sadler’s Wells company in London. The headstrong Anne, who much loved Antoine, rejects the notion of his supposed crimes. If nothing else, she owes him loyalty as her stage mentor. She enlists the aid of the messenger, Colonel Paul de Saint-Martin, and his adjutant, Georges Charpentier, to cross to France and investigate.
In her search for truth, Anne settles for the summer in Paris. Skilled in signing with the deaf, she means to use part of her time to study the techniques of Abbé l’Épée. At his school, she befriends Michou, a deaf, illiterate seamstress with a talent for puppetry, who gives Anne an entrée into the Palais-Royal. There her quest broadens as she encounters an amateur theatrical society of dissolute young noblemen and several suspicious officials.
Unraveling the mystery tests Anne’s nerve as well as her remarkable acrobatic skills. Hoping to narrow her scope, she agrees to appear at a chateau to act the part of an exotic queen in Indian costume. Priceless jewelry disappears. Its owner, an aged count, is murdered. Then a venal police inspector threatens to derail Anne’s whole project....
Rich in period detail and brimming with suspense, historian O’Brien’s debut novel is elegantly written as befits the times and explores borders between countries and between layers of society. The narrative is tinged by the storm gathering over France. Few have chosen to place a crime novel here. Charles O’Brien makes us wonder why.
About Charles O'Brien
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Published July 21, 2010
History, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Literature & Fiction, Horror, Crime.