Newsday Reports City of Light “a classic whodunit”
From 1679 to 1682, there transpired in the Paris of Louis XIV a series of sudden deaths that touched the public imagination in a deep and lasting way. Poisoners were at work — many of them, it seemed — and their victims included magistrates, aged and rich husbands, and, possibly, members of the king’s court at Versailles. The king was still consolidating his power at Versailles, and jealous nobles were suspected of threatening members of his entourage, and the monarch himself. The matter is known to the French as “l’affaire des poisons,” the affair of the poisons, one of those staples of court intrigue when the Sun King ruled supreme that have led to endless speculation with no definitive resolution.
Holly Tucker’s “City of Light, City of Poison” is an intriguing amalgam of historical evocation and crime narrative that places the emphasis on the investigating official, Nicolas de la Reynie, first chief of the Paris police force. Tucker tells the story as if it were a classic whodunit, bringing alive an extremely complicated and baffling series of events using La Reynie’s notes and voluminous court transcripts. The temptation to embroider and elaborate, to suggest motives and deduce states of mind, is very great. It sometimes feels as if the narrative is about to shift into fiction, but the facts of the court records keep reining things in . . .
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