Barnes & Nobel Reviews City of Light!
The array of culprits and the goggling audience alike ranged from the most glittering members of France’s aristocracy to Paris’s dregs. That’s one reason the bizarre chain of events that kept France intermittently on edge and in a tizzy from 1670 to 1682, retold with verve by Holly Tucker in City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris, may qualify as the first truly modern scandal. What historians of Louis XIV’s reign most often call “The Affair of the Poisons” had it all: sex, death, forgery, sorcery, clandestine meetings in sordid locales, political rivalries and shenanigans, iniquity among the powerful. Not to mention a dedicated flatfoot out to get to the bottom of things — and, ultimately, an official cover-up once somebody too close to the king for anyone’s comfort was implicated.
Previewing our own age of tabloid docudramas, “audience” isn’t even a wholly figurative term. The whole gallimaufry went on long enough that a play burlesquing it was produced on the Left Bank in time for one of the well-born suspects to attend it, not long before she wound up in the dock herself. Like a number of her peers, the duchess of Bouillon (some name!) had been hoping to bump off a husband she disliked with help from a sinister back-street necromancer, abortionist, and peddler of potions known as Madame Voisin. Unlike some of the other perps, however — including her sister Olympe, the duchess of Soissons, who bolted the country when alerted to her impending arrest — Bouillon had enough temerity to successfully stymie Tucker’s hero: Nicholas de la Reynie, the founder of the Paris police force . . .
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