Cabasson, Armand - 'Memory of Flames' (translated by Isabel Reid)
MEMORY OF FLAMES, published by Gallic Books, is the third in a series of thrillers by French psychiatrist Armand Cabasson set during the Napoleonic wars. The hero, Quentin Margont is a lieutenant in Napoleon's Great Army with a talent for handling politically sensitive investigations, discreetly.
At the opening of this book Margont is stationed with the National Guard at its Paris barracks, as Paris prepares for an attack by the Allied forces ranged against Napoleon. Margont is summoned to a meeting with Joseph, Napoleon's brother and Talleyrand, memorably described as "shit in silk stockings", where he is instructed to infiltrate the Swords of the King, a highly secretive royalist group implicated in the murder of General Berle, a key figure in the defence of Paris. Charles de Varencourt, a gambler and member of the Swords of the King is betraying the group for financial reasons, passing information about the group's members and exploits to Joseph's police. Joseph and Talleyrand put pressure on de Varencourt to propose Margont, under an assumed identity, as a new member of the group. Margont assumes a new identity as a Royalist army officer, leading a psychologically demanding double life, in constant fear of discovery by the justifiably paranoid members of the Swords of the King.
As the Allied forces come nearer and nearer to Paris, Margont strives to uncover further plots made by the royalists against Napoleon, but he struggles to gain the trust of the group. When a further murder is committed, with similar burns inflicted on the victim's body to those inflicted on General Berle, Margont realises that flames must have a particular meaning to the killer. Regardless of the outcome of the Allied attack, Margont is determined that justice be done, and the killer apprehended.
MEMORY OF FLAMES is a gripping historical thriller, and succeeds in creating a strong feeling of suspense in the reader about whether Margont will be discovered as an agent of the Empire, and about the ultimate fate of Paris and Napoleon. Margont remains a sympathetic hero, intelligent, idealistic and compassionate, and the characterisation of Margont's army comrades and royalist conspirators and their diverse motivations is subtle and realistic, with nice touches of humour. Armand Cabasson manages yet again to seamlessly meld the historical and criminal elements into a highly readable quality thriller.
Laura Root, England