Nicholas who is not trusted by the new Lieutenant General of Police, Monsieur Lenoir, is given a series of unconnected investigations to deal with seemingly to put him off the trail of the chambermaid's murderer. Nicholas and his associates, police inspector Bordeau, and navy surgeon Guillaume Semacgus, carry out their investigations in Paris and Versailles, negotiating the squalor of the city, and the stilted manners and etiquette of the court.
The flowery writing style of Jean-Francois Parot, and the translation by Howard Curtis, deeply immerses the reader in the time and manners of France during the reign of the young Louis XVI and his Austrian Queen Marie Antoinette.
Once I had got in to this book I enjoyed the historical detail, but unfortunately it was about 100 pages too long, and with so many characters I had to remind myself constantly of who was who. There is a useful dramatis personae at the beginning that stretches over four pages, and contains a Bourdeau, De La Borde and Bourdier just to confuse me.
There detailed descriptions of huge meals, terrible conditions in a hospital, the court at Versailles, demonstrations of automatons, and the investigative techniques used by Nicholas. There are asides concerning the improvements to be made to the Navy with references to possible problems for Britain in her North American colonies [perhaps the next book in the series?] accounts of the licentious behaviour of the upper classes, and intrigues at court. The vast amount of detail and various sub-plots overwhelm the original crime plot, and I wondered whether this was more of an historical novel with a crime element than crime fiction.
The third course was ready: bacon pies, ramekins of Italian cheese, pureed partridge, duck a l'espagnole, tendrons of veal with Bengal curry, cardons with grated cheese, and fried celery.
The author seems to agree that no one can remember all the complications in this very long book, and we get an epilogue that reiterates the plot and the crimes.
I am quite convinced that hidden among the fascinating detail, the various sub-plots and the annoying constant references to events and characters in the previous books in the series [starting this series at book five is not a good idea] there is a very good historical novel that just needed a bit of editing.
'I understand what you're saying, said Testard du Lys. 'But all this jumble of information makes me even more confused. What connection can there be between all these crimes?'