Parot, Jean-Francois - 'The Nicolas Le Floch Affair' (translated by Howard Curtis)
THE NICOLAS LE FLOCH AFFAIR is the fourth in the series of French historical crime novels by diplomat Jean-Francois Parot. Set in pre-revolutionary France, these novels feature Parisian Police Commissioner Nicolas Le Floch, and are loosely based on historical events and figures.
This novel opens at the beginning of the year 1774, the last year of Louis XV's reign. Over fifteen years have passed since the first novel in the series, THE CHATELET APPRENTICE, and Nicolas is by now well established in his police career, and in his position as a trustee of King Louis XV. The only fly in the ointment is his fraught relationship with a wealthy widow, Julie de Lasterieux. When Julie is found dead in suspicious circumstances following an argument with Nicolas, he quickly becomes the prime suspect. Although the King and his police boss, Sartine, believe in his innocence, Nicolas has many enemies keen to strengthen the case against him.
To deflect attention, Nicolas is sent on a secret Royal mission to London to negotiate the silence of the publisher of a number of scurrilous pamphlets about the King's mistresses. When an attempt is made on his life en route to London, Nicolas starts to wonder whether the attempt to frame him for murder is part of a wider political conspiracy. On his return to Paris, Nicolas has to continue the fight to clear his name and unmask the culprit, as well as helping attend the ailing King.
This novel is an intelligent and well-researched historical thriller, crammed with details about the food, politics and social conditions of the time. Parot doesn't stint on showing us the mud, muck and degrading living conditions of the poor in pre-revolutionary France, in contrast to the luxurious life enjoyed by the Royal family and their courtiers at Versailles. In the character of the more working class detective Bourdeau, Nicolas' assistant, Parot neatly depicts the growing tension between the people and the privileged aristocracy. At times though, the plot can seem a little slowed by discussions of food and recipes by the characters, and by the political gossip, which can be a touch confusing notwithstanding the useful provision of a dramatis personae at the beginning of the book. Overall, THE NICOLAS LE FLOCH AFFAIR maintains the high standards of the series, but would not be the obvious starting point for a reader new to the series.
Laura Root, England