Author: Holly Tucker
Review: This was a fascinating and well-researched story, but it wasn’t told in a particularly engaging way.
“Appointed to conquer the “crime capital of the world,” the first police chief of Paris faces an epidemic of murder in the late 1600s. Assigned by Louis XIV, Nicolas de La Reynie begins by clearing the streets of filth and installing lanterns throughout Paris, turning it into the City of Light. The fearless La Reynie pursues criminals through the labyrinthine neighborhoods of the city. He unearths a tightly knit cabal of poisoners, witches, and renegade priests. As he exposes their unholy work, he soon learns that no one is safe from black magic—not even the Sun King” (source).
I had high hopes for this initially. It started out with a note from the author about attributing actions, emotions, or motives to people only if primary sources supported doing so, which I always appreciate. Unfortunately, the author didn’t do a whole lot of attributing emotions to anyone. While the events this story covered were fascinating, the dry style did it no favors. I never felt pulled forward by the narrative or even particularly curious about what was going to happen next. That may be for the best, in a way, since at the end, it still wasn’t clear to me exactly what had happened and what was just hearsay. I found that a bit of a letdown. The lack of a cast of characters was also disappointing, as many people popped in and out of the story.
As I expected at the beginning, however, I was impressed by the author’s research. Her use of direct quotes from primary sources was particularly interesting. Despite a somewhat dry tone, I did enjoy this story. I don’t think it lived up to its potential though. Other nonfiction authors I’ve read could probably have used these great primary sources to write something that better conveyed the emotions of the people involved. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for other nonfiction or some fiction on the topic.