Holly Tucker’s City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris tells a story so outlandish, one would be forgiven for thinking the book was historical fiction. But this tale of Parisian witches and possibly murderous noblewomen really did happen, and it rocked the foundation of one of the most powerful monarchies the world has ever seen—the court of Louis XIV at Versailles.
The Affair of the Poisons was a panic and, depending on who you believe, crime wave that swept through the French aristocracy. A group of prominent and powerful noblewomen, including some former mistresses of the king, were accused of buying poisons to kill their husbands or female rivals for the king’s affections. In order to do so, they would have had to make contact with the infamous women of the Parisian criminal underworld. Tucker, a professor of French, Italian and Biomedical Ethics at Vanderbilt University, answered our questions about her riveting account of the affair.
As a French professor, you no doubt had read about this scandal many times. What made you decide to write a book about it yourself?
The Affair of the Poisons has long fascinated me as a specialist of early French history. Yet the story seemed initially just too murky and, frankly, too dark to let myself get sucked into it. I decided instead to write Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine & Murder in the Scientific Revolution, which tells the story of the first blood transfusions and the murder of the first blood transfusion patient by poisoning. Although this poisoning was not directly related to the Affair of the Poisons, I realize now that I was using my last book as an entrée into my next book. By the time I was finished with Blood Work, I just knew that I had to face my fears and dive in. Poison, magic, Paris and Louis XIV—the story was too extraordinary, the characters were too fascinating and their crimes too stunning . . .
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