Parot, Jean-Francois - 'The Man with the Lead Stomach' (translated by Michael Glencross)
THE MAN WITH THE LEAD STOMACH is the second in a series of crime thrillers by Jean-Francois Parot set in pre-Revolutionary France, featuring Nicolas Le Floch. Le Floch has been promoted to a Commissioner following his success in THE CHATELET APPRENTICE case, the first novel in the series.
In THE MAN WITH THE LEAD STOMACH, Le Floch investigates the mysterious death of the son of the Comte de Ruissec, who has been found dead in his locked bedroom after gunshots were heard. It seems like an open and shut case of suicide - but Le Floch has doubts that matters are quite so clear cut. Despite his ostensible piety and obsession with family honour, the victim's father is surprisingly keen to stifle Le Floch's investigation and for the death to be swiftly hushed up as suicide. As the Comte has royal connections (he and his wife are part of the entourage of Adelaide, the daughter of King Louis XV), the case is to be handled with metaphorical kid gloves. Le Floch has to manoeuvre carefully through the rival factions developing in the court at Versailles. Le Floch's task is made even harder as the Comte has put pressure on the police to close the investigation, and so he obtains grudging permission from his superiors to continue his search for the murderer. As Le Floch investigates at the Count's home and Versailles, it becomes clear that the victim's private life may have provided a motive for his murder. The victim had recently split with his actress girlfriend on acrimonious terms, to become engaged to a bad-tempered reclusive but wealthy older woman, and was heavily in debt due to a gambling habit. A stolen piece of jewellery used by an army friend to pay off the victim's gambling debt leads back to the Court and Versailles and possible political motives for the crime.
As in the first novel in the series, the author, Jean-Francois Parot, adeptly navigates his protagonist, Le Floch, through the highest and lowest levels of Paris society, from the court at Versailles to low taverns and brothels as he investigates. Le Floch remains an engaging and modest hero, who has gained in confidence since his apprenticeship days have finished. The relationships between Le Floch and his superior, Sartine, and his subordinate, Inspector Bourdeau are developed nicely in this book; Le Floch is alternately frustrated and mollified by his testy superior, and continues to find hidden depths in his inferior colleague.
THE MAN WITH THE LEAD STOMACH is a gripping read. Jean-Francois Parot manages to combine political and historical detail intelligently with page-turning action and an increasing body count, whilst not stinting on the more gory and grimy aspects of the era. I would recommend this book, and the first in the series, THE CHATELET APPRENTICE to those readers who enjoy a gripping but intelligent yarn.
Laura Root, England