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For the King by Catherine Delors

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Julianne Douglas
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For the King by Catherine Delors

Postby Julianne Douglas » Thu July 8th, 2010, 7:15 am

In the aftermath of 9/11, talk of sleeper cells and suicide bombers has become daily fare in the news media, making it all too easy to assume terror attacks are events particular to twenty-first century life. However, London's failed Gunpowder Plot in 1605 and Chicago's 1886 Haymarket Square bombing are but two incidents historians could cite to disprove this assumption. A conspicuous third would be the Christmas Eve bombing in 1800 on the rue Nicaise in Paris -- the subject of historical novelist Catherine Delors's riveting new novel, FOR THE KING (Dutton, July 8).

Six years after the end of the Reign of Terror that culminated the French Revolution, Napoleon has overthrown the constitutional government and installed himself as First Consul. This power grab pleases neither the radical Jacobins, whose egalitarian philosophy fueled the Revolution, nor the royalist Chouans, who want to reinstate the monarchy and recenter the country on its Catholic foundations. So when an "infernal machine" hidden in a cart explodes along Napoleon's route to the Opera, sparing the Consul but killing twenty-two bystanders, maiming fifty-six and destroying the forty-odd houses that line the street, either group could conceivably be responsible. Convinced the Jacobins organized the attack, Napoléon orders over one hundred of them arrested, including the outspoken but harmless aged father of the city's Chief Inspector, Roch Miquel. The powerful Minister of Police, Fouché, blames not the Jacobins but the Royalists. Roch's self-serving mentor grants the young inspector one month to prove him right, ensuring Roch's assiduity in cracking the case by threatening to deport Old Miquel to Guiana. In a race to save his father, Roch quickly links two suspects proposed by Fouché to the crime, but the suspects' whereabouts -- as well as the identity of a mysterious third man, mastermind of the attack -- prove frustratingly difficult to determine.

FOR THE KING is a thriller, not a mystery, for unlike Roch, the reader knows from the outset who orchestrated the crime: Joseph de Limoëlan, a member of the royalist insurgency, aided by two accomplices, the men fingered by Fouché. Delors paints a fascinating portrait of Limoëlan, a nobleman whose father and kin were guillotined during the Revolution and whose anger and hatred allows him to disregard the suffering he causes in his quest for revenge. In contrast, Roch, a parvenu struggling to establish himself in the new republic, displays an honor and integrity his father ingrained in him despite years of poverty and wandering. In committing the crime, Limoëlan fights for his father in a figurative sense; pressed to prosecute it, Roch fights for his in a literal one. Antagonist and protagonist are further linked through the protean Fouché, father to nothing but his own interests, and the beautiful, secretive Blanche Coudert, trapped in a marriage with a man old enough to be her father. Place all this in the context of a country that has just executed its king and whose inhabitants now consider themselves "children of the fatherland" (enfants de la patrie, according to La Marseillaise) and FOR THE KING becomes a rich exploration of identity, loyalty and the dynamic tension between past and future in the creation of self and nation.

Delors, an attorney, spent many hours researching the rue Nicaise attack in the archives of the Ministry and Prefecture of Police Paris and it shows. Her meticulous research allows her to reconstruct with convincing verisimilitude what has been called the first modern police investigation. Even readers who do not usually choose thrillers or mysteries (like myself) will find themselves fascinated as the investigation unfolds and Roch pieces clues together. The realities of life in the early nineteenth century become achingly real as Roch struggles to solve a crime without the benefits of modern forensic technology. Victims die of their wounds before they can be interviewed; witnesses stand in line for hours at the police station for the chance to tell their tales; blacksmiths are forced to examine the putrifying carcass of the wagon horse in the hope that one of them will recognize the animal and identify its owner. Police procedure aside, Delors, without ever resorting to didactic exposition, manages to make sense of the confusing political factionalism that both inspires the crime and determines the course of the investigation. In so doing, she opens up an era of French history little familiar to modern American readers.

Detailing the attack from the perspectives of both perpetrators and police gains Delors entry to all corners of early nineteenth century society, from Napoleon's elegant drawing room to the cramped offices of minor functionaries, from the noisy, wine-stained taverns of the working class to the damp, infested prison cells of the condemned. With a sharp eye for detail and a keen ability to depict nuances of convention and behavior, Delors resurrects the gritty, turbulent, and often dangerous Paris of the common man at a time when egalitarian ideals are struggling to survive. Her characters, even minor ones, are fully fleshed beings with quirks, habits, and histories of their own. Fictional characters prove indistinguishable from historical ones, interacting as equals in the interstices of the historical record where the novelist gives her imagination free rein.

FOR THE KING is quite different from Delors's first acclaimed novel, MISTRESS OF THE REVOLUTION (Dutton 2008), and in my opinion, ultimately more satisfying. Roch comes to recognize and appreciate the love of a devoted woman in the course of the novel, but readers looking solely for romantic adventure will be disappointed. Delors shatters readers' expectations as thoroughly as the infernal machine blows a gaping hole in the Parisian street. Bucking current trends in historical fiction, she abandons the frolics and foibles of the royalty to offer an intelligent and compelling depiction of common people struggling to make sense of an uncertain new world. A writer to watch, Catherine Delors continues to delight and surprise. I, for one, can't wait to see what she offers us next.
Last edited by Julianne Douglas on Thu July 8th, 2010, 3:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Julianne Douglas

Writing the Renaissance

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Catherine Delors
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Postby Catherine Delors » Thu July 8th, 2010, 7:26 pm

Wow, thank you, Julianne! Reading your review made me realize how important the father-son relationships were to me while I was writing this.

annis
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Postby annis » Thu July 8th, 2010, 8:20 pm

I'm looking forward to reading this one :) It's great to see more HF (like this novel and CW's Confessions of Catherine de Medici) coming through which focuses on events outside of Britain as well.

It's interesting that Catherine's novel deals with the administrative confusion caused by political disruption in bureaucratic systems like the Police Dept. I recently read Isabel Allende's novel Island Beneath the Sea, which is set in late 18th/early 19th century French Haiti and French Louisiana, and one aspect which is clear is the chaos caused in Haiti by the constant bureaucratic changes and bumbling coming from a chaotic Revolutionary administration in France itself. This added substantially to the instability of French governance on the island, contributing to the major slave rebellion of 1793.

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Julianne Douglas
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Postby Julianne Douglas » Thu July 8th, 2010, 9:10 pm

Sorry if the review sounds like a term paper ;) , but the multiple fatherhood issues just kept jumping out at me as I read the book. You really weren't consciously aware of them as you wrote? I can understand, though, because my first book had multiple themes on motherhood that I never intended to be there when I began writing.

That's what I love about the creative process and why the question "What did the author mean?" always annoys me. Works of art often wind up resonating in ways the author isn't even aware of herself.
Julianne Douglas



Writing the Renaissance

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Catherine Delors
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Postby Catherine Delors » Thu July 8th, 2010, 9:10 pm

Annis, I haven't read this one, but I loved Alejo Carpentier's "Kingdom of This World" also about the Haitian Revolution.

True, the French Revolution caused many administrative disruptions, but it also implemented systems that are still in place to this day. Also, what struck me while researching For the King was the continuity of the police between the Ancien Regime and the Revolutionary and post-revolutionary eras.

Speaking of CW's beautiful Confessions of Catherine de M, I loved the fact that he too strayed from the traditional romantic framework. I am not alone... :)
Last edited by Catherine Delors on Thu July 8th, 2010, 9:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Catherine Delors
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Postby Catherine Delors » Thu July 8th, 2010, 9:15 pm

"Julianne Douglas" wrote:Sorry if the review sounds like a term paper ;) , but the multiple fatherhood issues just kept jumping out at me as I read the book. You really weren't consciously aware of them as you wrote? I can understand, though, because my first book had multiple themes on motherhood that I never intended to be there when I began writing.

That's what I love about the creative process and why the question "What did the author mean?" always annoys me. Works of art often wind up resonating in ways the author isn't even aware of herself.


Julianne, I don't think your review sounds like a term paper at all! Was I aware of the prominence of the fatherhood themes? At the time I was writing, yes, I do think so. But this book went through so many rewrites that I got sidetracked by other issues, in particular with the female characters (Blanche was very tricky to write). Your review just brought back my original feel for the book. Which is nice, and proves that you are a very perceptive reader. :)

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Miss Moppet
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My review (5 stars)

Postby Miss Moppet » Fri August 13th, 2010, 6:37 pm

I loved Mistress of the Revolution, so my expectations for For the King were high, and I’m delighted to say that the book did not disappoint. An historical thriller, it deals with the failed assassination attempt on Napoleon in Paris on Christmas Eve 1800 – or, in French Revolutionary parlance, the 3rd of the month of Nivose (translation: Frosty) of Year Nine of the Republic.

For the King follows the investigation after the attack, which, although it failed to harm Napoleon, killed and maimed many other people. The central character is Roch Miquel, the son of a tavern owner who has risen to be Chief of Police. Roch is convinced from the start that the Royalist faction is behind the plot, but unfortunately his patron and superior, the untrustworthy Fouché, is anxious to assign the blame to the ex-Jacobins who also want to see Bonaparte fall – among them Roch’s father.

And the lady on the cover? Roch is involved with Blanche Coudert, the beautiful young wife of a newly-rich banker. But his relationship to her comes under strain in the course of the investigation. You may notice that the cover image is from later in the 19th century, so the dress has been digitally altered to conform to the high waistline fashionable in 1800!

Although the cover highlights the romantic subplot, the main drive of the book is the chase after the assassins. This is a fast-paced read which never sacrifices atmosphere and is rich with details gleaned from archival research.

A very accomplished second novel and a wonderful read.

I received an ARC of For the King from the author - thanks Catherine! My full review and Q&A with Catherine here:

http://misadventuresofmoppet.wordpress.com/2010/08/08/for-the-king-by-catherine-delors/#comment-1222

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Michy
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Postby Michy » Fri August 13th, 2010, 7:01 pm

I picked this one up from the library a few days ago -- it is next in line TBR.

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Catherine Delors
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Postby Catherine Delors » Fri August 13th, 2010, 7:20 pm

Thanks for the review and great interview, Miss Moppet! This Patisserie Valerie picture is something...
Michy, I look forward to your questions and impressions.

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Michy
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Postby Michy » Mon August 16th, 2010, 2:40 pm

I just started the book yesterday, but I do have a question about a small bit of trivia. That is, you describe Roch Miquel as being unusually tall at just under six feet. I know that, generally speaking, people were shorter in centuries past, but I wouldn't have expected 5'11" to be unusually tall for a man, even in 1800. I would have expected "unusually tall" to be more along the lines of George Washington, who was 6'3" or 6'4". Were the French people (or the people of the Auvergne region) of generally smaller stature?

Just in case you're wondering why I would ask about something so trivial -- well, I am quite tall myself, so anything to do with height catches my attention. :)


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