The One with the Blue-Blood Runaway

Jean-Christophe Portes, La Disparue de Saint Maur (2017)

I’m still grieving for Nicolas Le Floch’s interrupted series after the passing of his author Jean-François Parot in 2018. But this series is a serious contender to be the next best thing when it comes to mysteries set at the end of the 18th century. Le Floch’s last mystery was set in 1787, two short years before the start of the French Revolution. Jean-Christophe Portes’ mysteries start in 1791, with the “Mystère des Corps sans Tête”, and this one, the third in the series, is set in the winter of this same year. Two years have passed since the beginning of the Revolution and already the enthusiasm and idealism of the first events have been replaced by more cynical strategies. Nothing is black and white anymore. Some want the war with the neighboring countries, some find it a folly and while some want to make good business out of it, others are manipulated by British spies. Catholic convents and monasteries have lost their privileges, and while some of them were nothing more than prisons for young women, it also means that unscrupulous businessmen can throw the nuns out and buy lands and buildings dirt cheap.

Dauterive is called to the suburbs of Paris to investigate a missing young woman, but the family isn’t keen to help. Local aristocrats, yet very poor, with two unmarried daughters still at home in their 30s, they keep away from the villagers and don’t want a policeman from the new regime to poke around. After one week they are ready to consider their daughter dead. Dauterive finds it very suspicious, but he soon has to abandon his investigation, as his mentor and master La Fayette sets him on another mission. He is to go to London to confirm a suspicion that the future Mayor of Paris would be a British intelligence asset. The trip to London proves a lot more dangerous than expected, and while Dauterive’s life is at stake, his friend Olympe de Gouges is taking up the investigation on the young runaway.

I really enjoyed the detailed atmosphere of Paris during the Revolution. It helps if you have some ideas about the general events of the period, but Dauterive, as a young and rather naive (increasingly less so) bystander, serves as a witness and participant to the historical events and he also shares his private interrogations. I’m not a specialist of the period but it feels really true, down to smells, clothes and architecture details. (Compared to Parot, Portes seems less inclined to detail whatever the characters had to eat 😉). Portes, just like Parot, likes to mix facts with fiction, and there’s an useful postface to the novel that helps distinguish the two for those who are so inclined.

I had some reservations in mixing two plot lines that are so radically different within the same book (the London trip is really a spy thriller, and the missing woman takes more of a socio-political drama mixed with a classic whodunit intrigue). But it works somehow and the pacing is good, so that it’s a real page turner! This book was part of my January selection for the Unread Shelf challence, because I had high expectations, and I was not disappointed. I really look forward to reading the next one in the series.

One thought on “The One with the Blue-Blood Runaway

  1. Pingback: Alexandre Dumas, Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge (1845) | Smithereens

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