A Time Travelers Notebook by Author Holly Tucker

Paris Was a Great Place to Get Poisoned in the 17th Century

Apr 12, 2017 | Interviews, Media, Reviews

In 1667, Paris was a filthy crime-ridden mess, and Nicolas de La Reynie was the man hired to clean it up.

As Holly Tucker tells it in City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic and the First Police Chief of Paris, the state of the capital made the would-be glorious Sun King of France, Louis XIV, look bad, and he wanted it fixed. And so La Reynie was installed as lieutenant general of police and assigned to get the crime under control. The book tracks his efforts, beginning with fairly straightforward measures like lighting the streets. But gradually he realized he faced a bigger case. Imagine one of those complex modern multi-agency investigations involving violent motorcycle gangs with their fingers in narcotics and illegal weapons and God knows what else, but swap in rogue midwives, fortune-tellers, dodgy priests—and poisoners. The book reads like Law and Order: 17th Century Parisian Poisoners Unit.

La Reynie discovered that there was a neighborhood where you could go if you wanted face-whitening creams, love potions, abortions, or even a little something to make your husband drop dead. And it wasn’t just local women shopping for these services, either—sometimes it was women of the court and perhaps even mistresses of Louis XIV himself. The further La Reynie dug, the more gruesome the allegations became. How high did the Affair of the Poisons go? Was the King himself in danger?

 

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Explore Holly's Journal

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If mystery novels appeal to the credulous child in me, true crime stories speak to my inner voyeur. In reading this current batch of books, I’ve walked alongside a prisoner on her way to her execution, learned how to poison a wineglass and watched a king’s mistress do away with her rival. And that’s only from the first book on my list: CITY OF LIGHT, CITY OF POISON:...

The New Yorker Reviews City of Light!

CITY OF LIGHT, CITY OF POISON, by Holly Tucker (Norton). In 1667, Louis XIV, hoping to reduce crime in Paris, created a law-enforcement position—the lieutenant general of police—with sweeping powers of surveillance and detention. Tucker’s history focusses on the first incumbent, Nicolas de la Reynie, who built up a network of informants and discovered more than he’d...

WXXI Connections Interviews Holly about City of Light, City of Poison

Torture. Sweeping police powers. Unlawful detention. Scandal at the highest level. We're talking about... Paris, roughly 340 years ago. In a remarkable new book, professor Holly Tucker tells the story of l'Affaire de les Poisons -- the Affair of the Poisons, which rocked France and put a target on King Louis XIV himself. Louis responded by appointing Paris' first police...

Historical Novel Society Spellbound by City of Light, City of Poison

Paris in the late 17th century was not a place for the faint of heart. Despite the frightening ease with which you could be imprisoned without trial on the king’s command, the infamous lettre de cachet, crime, particularly at night, was rampant in the city. Paris was such a city of darkness in fact that it was in danger of becoming “an embarrassment” to the Sun King. In...

Bookwitty Declares City of Light, City of Poison Engrossing & Appalling

Holly Tucker’s City of Light, City of Poison is a riveting tale of power, passion and toxic lovers set in seventeenth century Paris. Tucker’s account of what became known as The Affair of the Poisons may read like a novel but is built from her meticulous study of historical documents and includes scintillating excerpts from court documents, memoirs, letters and records...
City of Light, City of Poison Cover

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