Monday, July 26, 2010

For The King by Catherine Delors

The Reign of Terror has ended, and Napoléon Bonaparte has seized power, but shifting political loyalties still tear apart families and lovers. On Christmas Eve 1800, a bomb explodes along Bonaparte's route, narrowly missing him but striking dozens of bystanders. Chief Inspector Roch Miquel, a young policeman with a bright future and a beautiful mistress, must arrest the assassins before they attack again. Complicating Miquel's investigation are the maneuverings of his superior, the redoubtable Fouché, the indiscretions of his own father, a former Jacobin, and two intriguing women.

After tackling the French Revolution in her first book, Catherine Delors now uses an attempt on Napoleon's life to show the police force's investigative methods, while portraying the new society that emerged after the end of the monarchy.

In Roch Miquel, the son of a skin man turned tavern owner, she presents us with a hero whose worth is based on his convictions and abilities instead of his birth. And he is a man who believes in method, investigation and patience to discover the truth instead of the torture his colleagues use. In such precarious times though, his past and the lives of his loved ones are also connected with his relationship with Fouché, the powerful minister of Police, and Fouché's ability to stay in Napoleon's good graces.

The story opens with the description of the attack and it is not difficult to feel disgust and anger towards an action that takes as first sacrifices an impoverished child and an animal. We first get to know the perpetrators and then Roch Miquel, the policeman charged with the investigation.

It is not easy to navigate in this world where there seems to be more shades of gray than black and white. If justice for all was one of the Revolution's demands then things don't seem to be going well. People are still convicted on weak evidence just because a scapegoat is needed and if the aristocracy of previous years is now reduced to a precarious position or living in exile, the newly rich seem to behave in much the same way and social injustice seems as common as before. Not to mention that Napoleon, who is not yet emperor but is already paving the way to power by calling former aristocrats to his court and having famous artists paint his portrait and glorify him.

In the course of his investigation Miquel interviews a great number of people of different social status and motivations. He is eager to find the culprits to please Fouché but his favouritism with the Minister means he is not trusted by his superior. Fouché has his own reasons to want the men brought to justice and even leads Miquel in the right direction at first. But he has his own agenda and is not above blackmailing Miquel with his father's imprisonment to get the results he wants. The attack of the Rue Nicaise, as this event would become known, is considered the first scientific criminal investigation and at least some of the perpetrators were eventually brought to justice.

As most of the characters, Miquel is not exactly likeable in the beginning, he is too devoted to his work and has a strained relationship with his father who wants him to settle down with a friend's daughter. Miquel has his own ideas about it, and believes himself already in love with someone else. As the story progresses he will have quite a few surprises about said woman and he starts to feel more vulnerable he will also become more interesting and complex. The romantic intrigue that Delors adds to the story was nice but I felt sorry not to read more about Alexandrine, we just have a glimpse of who she was and I thought she seemed very interesting.

One of my favourite things about the story was how well Delors portrays the common people - nobody seems too surprised by having to able to account for who they are and what they are doing or by having the police knocking on their doors at all times. I was also surprised by how well organised the Royalists were, how wide were their connections and how determined they were to restore the monarchy. Then the story is populated with real people and it was really interesting to read the author's note and then going on a "googling expedition" to find out more about them. For The King is not an easy and quick read but it is definitely worth the time you spend with it.

Grade: 4.5/5

I would like to thank the author for sending me a copy of this book. And don't forget to check HT's conversation about For The King!


  1. I can't wait to read this one. I have it on reserve at the library...I really enjoyed her first book.

  2. I've never read anything by Catherine Delors, but I loved your review. This title seems great and is definitely worth checking out.

  3. Will be looking out for this one. Great review!