My second novel: For The King
I am often asked whether it is a sequel to Mistress of the Revolution. The answer is no. The characters of my first novel had such a grip of my mind that I needed to establish some distance, at least for a while. But my readers will recognize the same setting, the familiar streets of old Paris. Only the action now takes place in 1800, six years after the fall and death of Robespierre.
Six years is a very long time during the Revolution. Many things have changed. France is still officially a Republic, and Bonaparte, the First Consul, is not yet Napoleon. He has seized power in a coup in 1799, over a year ago. But Royalists, who had at first naively believed that he would restore the exiled King Louis XVIII to the throne, have now lost all of their illusions as to the extent of the First Consul’s ambitions.
Bonaparte is a master of propaganda. With the help of the greatest French artists, such as Jacques-Louis David and Antoine-Jean Gros, he cleverly uses his victories – and even his defeats – to craft the image of a glorious, invincible military hero.
At the same time, he pardons many of the former aristocrats who sought safety in émigration during the years of the Terror. He wants to attract them, and promises them new titles and generous stipends if they join the new Court he is forming around himself and his wife, charming Joséphine. The émigrés now cautiously return to France. Have they sincerely rallied to Bonaparte, or are they secretly conspiring for the return of the King?
In the western provinces, Royalist insurgents, called the Chouans, under the leadership of the charismatic Georges Cadoudal, continue to defy Bonaparte in spite of the government’s talk of pacification and amnesty.
In Paris Bonaparte also faces other determined opponents: the remaining Jacobins, partisans of the nearly defunct ideals of the Revolution. They, no less than the Royalists, are outraged by the emergence of a new monarchy.
On Christmas Eve 1800, Bonaparte, accompanied by Joséphine, is going to the Opera to attend the premiere of the oratorio The Creation of the World. On Rue Nicaise, along the path of their carriages, an infernal machine, a bomb of tremendous power, explodes. Fortunately the First Consul’s coachman is alert and whips his horses. Bonaparte, Joséphine and their entourage escape unharmed, but there are over seventy casualties.
Public opinion reacts to the attack with shock and outrage, much in the same fashion as we did after 9/11. The target of the assassins was not only Bonaparte, it was also the people of Paris. The victims are a fourteen-year old girl, a little street vendor, shopkeepers, musicians who had been hired for a nearby party, passersby, ordinary people who were going to celebrate Christmas Eve or simply waiting to see the First Consul’s carriage pass by.
Joseph Fouché, the redoubtable Minister of Police, heads the inquiry, considered to this day the first modern, scientific criminal investigation. But Bonaparte distrusts Fouché, a former Jacobin who has betrayed everyone he has ever served.
Bonaparte, regardless of the findings of Fouché’s investigation, which soon points to Cadoudal’s Chouans, deftly uses the public anger that follows the attack to eliminate political opponents of all stripe and further consolidate his power. The path to Empire is now wide open to him.
So much for the historical background.
Now, about the plot of the novel?
Roch Miquel, a young policeman with a brilliant future and a beautiful mistress, investigates the Rue Nicaise attack. His father, a former Jacobin, has risen from the lowest rungs of society to owning a tavern. Roch’s investigation takes him through the dark alleys and glittering salons of post-revolutionary Paris, and the studio of the prominent painter David, himself a former Jacobin rallied to Bonaparte.
Old Miquel is soon arrested because of his political sympathies, and threatened with deportation or summary execution. To save his father, Roch must discover and arrest the assassins before it is too late. As he hunts them down and faces their chief, Joseph de Limoëlan – a historical character – he tests the limits of his loyalties and discovers the meaning of truth.
For The King is a historical thriller, a police procedural, a tale of love, betrayal and redemption.