For the King, by Catherine Delors – A Review

Summer is upon us and I am taking a bold move and jumping ship from my usual fare of Jane Austen and her offspring to cross the channel into France during the Napoleonic Wars with For the King, a detective thriller set in post-Revolutionary Paris steeped in politics and revenge.

Firstly, this book has an absolutely stunning cover and eye catching title that may be misleading to readers. This is not a novel about the glittering social season in Paris with Napoleon and Josephine resplendent with Ball gowns and romantic entanglements. It is about the plight of the proletariat in Paris, political corruption, honor, and integrity. Caveat emptor.

On Christmas Eve 1800, a devastating explosion by “machine infernale” on rue Saint-Nicaise in Paris kills twenty-two citizens, wounds fifty-six others and destroys dozens of surrounding buildings. Napoleon Bonaparte the newly self-appointed First Consul of France continues by carriage on his route to an evening at the Opera unharmed. This failed assassinated attempt angers many people, but who is responsible?

Napoleon has numerous enemies including his own countrymen. Could it be the Jacobin forces responsible for the French Revolution nine years prior who want their overthrown constitutional government reinstated, or the Chouans, loyal to the Catholic monarchy intent on the restoration of a deposed King? Napoleon is convinced that the Jacobins are to blame and immediately orders the arrest over a hundred known insurgents. The powerful Minister of Police Joseph Fouché is determined to prove to Napoleon that the Royalist’s are at fault requesting Chief Inspector Roch Miguel to investigate two known Chouans, Pierre de Saint-Régent and Francois Carbon. To cover his bet the Minister has also offered a reward of 2,000 gold louis for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the Jacobins who “committed the atrocity.”

Suspicious of Fouché’s speed in delivering these two names, Miguel begins the investigation into the assassins of the rue Saint-Nicaise from evidence and eye witness accounts. Miguel’s superior Prefect of Police Louis-Nicolas Dubois influenced by his boss Fouché also believes the Jacobins are to blame. From the description of the suspects Miguel is not convinced the assassins are any known Jacobins. His boss points out the similarity to the “Conspiracy of Daggers” assassination plot by the Jacobins against Napoleon only two months prior. Miguel suggests they do not know enough yet and should not ignore clues that would lead to the Chouans. Dubois accuses Miguel of favoritism to the Jacobins because of his father’s allegiance and blames him for not knowing of the assassination plot and preventing it. When Miguel’s aged father Old Miguel is arrested as a suspect, Dubois gives Roch one month to prove that the Royalists indeed are behind the plot or his father will be deported as a traitor. Interestingly, the two suspects supplied by Minister of Police Joseph Fouché are quickly linked to the crime, but failing to find the elusive third man with gold spectacles may be Roch’s undoing and his father’s eminent death.

Based on the “Plot of the Rue Saint-Nicaise” author Catherine Delors has crafted a thriller from historical fact; – a police procedural in its infancy. Meticulously researched at the archives of the Ministry and Prefecture of Police in Pairs, the events surrounding the bombing and the eventual investigation give the reader an inside view of the political atmosphere of post-Revolutionary France and Napoleon’s struggle to rule a country manipulated away from the new Republic and the old Royalty.

Psychologically, the conspiracy is viewed from the perspective of the two main male characters, young, honorable Chief Inspector Rouch Miguel and the revengeful mastermind behind the plot Joseph de Limoëlan. Each represent opposite sides of the struggle: Limoëlan a former aristocrat who watched his family guillotined and his property confiscated by the Republic and Miguel, a Jacobin peasant and citizen of the street who rose socially by education and hard work. Both working for their own France. Napoleon on the other hand is working for his own corrupt vision France.

Steeped in incredible detail, I recommend For the King to readers who love to be engulfed in an era and swept away in suspense and intrigue.  Since we know the perpetrators of the plot from the beginning, this is not a mystery, but it plays out like one as the main character CI Roch Miguel must solve the crime to save his father and the Jacobin dignity. Those who like a good thriller will be pleased with the plot twists, double dealings and political machinations, however, those looking for emotional depth will be unmoved and short sheeted on the romance.

3 out of 5 Regency Stars

For the King, by Catherine Delors
Dutton Adult (2010)
Hardcover (352) pages
ISBN: 978-0525951742

© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Jane Austen and The Battle of Waterloo

Illustration of the Allies entering Paris after Napoleons defeat at Waterloo, October 1815

Allied troops entering Paris after the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte

the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces so little effect after so much labour” Letter to Edward Austen, 16 December 1816, The Letters of Jane Austen

Today marks the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, which is generally credited as Napoleon Bonaparte’s final defeat; – a significant event in European history that deeply affected the lives of every Englishman and the World. Bonaparte would soon surrender his troops and abdicate the throne, ending a seventeen year conflict between Britain and France, and other European nations. You can read a complete account of the battle here.  

Jane Austen had very little to say about the Battle of Waterloo or any aspect of the Napoleonic War, and that really irritated some of her critics. For some reason, the fact that she did not discuss politics or war in her novels makes her somehow negligent and narrow as an authoress. Her surviving personal correspondence is a bit better, with dribs and drabs of comment to her sister Cassandra about their two brothers Frank and Charles who served as sailors in his Majesties Navy, and were deep into the thick of the fighting. 

She lived almost her entire life in the shadow of the Napoleon’s tyranny. To criticize her because she chose not to include mention of it or other external political events in her novels is a misunderstanding of her intensions. Author David Nokes in his biography Jane Austen: A Life, touches upon this point and offers a logical explanation. 

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