The year is 1782 in Paris, under the reign of Louis the 16th. The commissaire Le Floch is in charge of ensuring a Russian prince’s security during his incognito stay in the French capital. It’s no mean feast because he’s no other than the son of Empress Catherine II, and everybody in town kind of knows who he is. Le Floch’s mission is freight with difficulties as spies of different allegiances abound and the mission itself can’t be official.
The court’s shenanigans are only one of Le Floch’s concerns among many. He looks as if he’s close to burn out, missing his son and his mistress(es?), exhausted by his job and his master’s schemes. On top of everything, another Russian nobleman gets murdered and suspicious circumstances abound. There are so many possible leads and uncertainties that i couldn’t help but commiserate with poor Le Floch.
As a reader i was almost as overwhelmed as he was, and i think there are materials enough in that book for two or more stories, so why cram everything so fast? More than once does Le Floch mention a desire to retire to the countryside, so much so that i wondered if it was the character’s wish or the writer’s.
Another troubling factor is the chosen period: 1782 feels ever so close to 1789, and many people in the book are disillusioned with the monarchy, fed up with the state of disarray and corruption the society is in. Things are going downhill from the golden years of the previous king that were presented to us with the few first Le Floch books, starting in 1761 as Le Floch was 21 (The Russian investigation is the 10th book in the series!). What a difference two decades do for a man and a country!
The plot is convoluted indeed, but it never ceased to interest me, as did all the historical details cleverly inserted here and there (geopolitical context! food of the time! craftsmen technique! etiquette at the Royal palace!). Even if this one book seemed to run out of steam in the middle (under the weight of its own complexity), the characters are so endearing that I certainly want to know what happens next, especially with the French Revolution looming ahead.