Parot, Jean-Francois - 'The Phantom of Rue Royale' (translated by Howard Curtis)
THE PHANTOM OF RUE ROYALE is the third in the series of historical mysteries by Jean-Francois Parot set in pre-revolutionary France featuring police commissioner Nicolas Le Floch.
The book opens similarly to previous books in the series, with Nicolas witnessing a real life historical event, in this case the disaster at the firework exhibition in 1770 celebrating the wedding of the Dauphin and Marie Antoinette. As Nicolas looks on helplessly, many deaths result due to panicky crowds in the narrow streets of central Paris following an out of control firework explosion. Nicolas is subsequently given the job of investigating why the disaster happened, and as cover for this politically risky task, he also investigates the mysterious death of a young girl, Elodie Galaine, the orphaned niece of a Parisian furrier. Elodie's body was found with marks of strangulation on her neck amongst the corpses of the victims of the firework accident.
The book focuses primarily on Nicolas's investigation of Elodie's death; Nicolas goes to stay in Elodie's family's house, and attempts to unpick the web of lies and omissions he is presented with by the family and the Mikmaq Indian who accompanied Elodie on the journey to France from the Canadian Maritimes. In the meantime, his investigation of the firework incident puts him in danger from powerful enemies. Just as you feel that Parot is retreading familiar territory from his earlier two books in the series, of the darkness that can lurk behind the respectable family facade, and of political intrigue, Parot throws a wholly new supernatural element into the mix, in the person of Miette, the family's maid who may be possessed.
THE PHANTOM OF RUE ROYALE is as entertaining as the other books in the series. As ever, the characters are neatly drawn, although Nicolas is now sufficiently established in his profession that there is little tension in his relationship with the royal court or with his subordinates, which does make him a slightly less interesting character. After a slightly slow beginning, the narrative unfolds at an exciting pace, and the victim's family form an interesting set of bourgeois semi-grotesques, adding interest to the proceedings. Parot makes good use of his historical knowledge; the detail is convincing but never overwhelms the reader.
Laura Root, England