London: Former attorney Catherine Delors continues to stake her claim to the French Revolutionary period in her follow-up to last year`s ‘Mistress of the Revolution,’ but her second novel is more of a police procedural than a romance.
While Delors covered the French Revolution and subsequent Reign of Terror with great sweep in her first novel, ‘For the King’ focuses on a few weeks following the attempted assassination of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Royalists eager to restore the French monarchy set off a cart of gunpowder in a Paris street on Christmas Eve 1800, hoping to kill the French leader as his carriage passes on its way to the opera. Bonaparte had seized power the year before and given himself the title of first consul. The French Senate would later declare him emperor.
He escaped the attack unscathed but 22 people were killed and 56 wounded. One of the dead was an unsuspecting teenage girl the would-be assassins had paid to hold the horse and cart in place.
Outraged by the carnage, residents of Paris rallied behind Bonaparte, and the city`s police launched what some consider the first modern criminal investigation.
Delors has created a hero in fictional Chief Inspector Roch Miquel, who is charged with finding and arresting the conspirators. She gives Miquel additional incentive by having his father arrested for expressing opposition to Bonaparte. Minister of Police Joseph Fouche, a historical figure Delors portrays as a Machiavellian villain, tells Miquel his father will be deported to Africa with other dissenters unless arrests are made quickly.
"For the King" tracks Miquel`s pursuit of the three main conspirators. Delors describes the conduct of interviews, examination of evidence and other police procedures with skill, but overall the novel is flat. Her devotion to the process of the police investigation shortchanges the romantic subplots and character development, resulting in an informative but less-than-engrossing story.
Some of the most interesting material is in the author`s endnote, in which Delors outlines which parts of the novel are factual and which are invented. Her detailed and sometimes sordid descriptions of the conspirators, Francois Carbon, Pierre Robinault de Saint-Regent and Joseph-Pierre Picot de Limoelan, are based on the historical record. Carbon had an affair with his sister. Limoelan paid a street vendor a small sum to hold the horse, setting her up to be killed.
Delors inventively uses a detail discovered about Saint-Regent — that he gave an unnamed love interest a pug — as the driver for her story. In the novel, Miquel and Saint-Regent have fallen for the same woman.