By Holly Tucker
W.W. Norton, 2017, 310 pages, Non-Fiction
Nicolas de La Reynie, appointed by Louis XIV as the first police chief of Paris, unearths a tightly knit cabal of poisoners, witches, and renegade priests, and discovers that the distance between the quiet backstabbing world of the king's court and the criminal underground is disturbingly short. As he continues his investigations, La Reynie must decide just how far he will go to protect his king.
I am sad to admit I don’t know much about Paris in the late 1600s, but Holly Tucker paints a highly detailed and interesting picture. She had me hooked from page one, where she describes the incredible crime rate that existed before the appointment of Nicolas de La Reynie as Paris’ first police chief. I could feel the darkness of the absolute night closing in, and I could almost sense someone lurking around the corner. La Reynie changed this almost overnight by mandating that lampposts be installed on every street, giving Paris the nickname the City of Light.
Tucker’s detailed descriptions and meticulous research are also prevalent as she describes what would later become known as the Affair of the Poisons. The Affair of the Poisons was an investigation and later a secret tribunal that required La Reynie to interview 442 accomplices from all walks of life, including the aristocracy. 218 people were put in prison, 34 were executed, and 28 were sentenced to life in prison or the galleys. Although occasionally on the graphic side (there are descriptions of torture methods and black masses), this book is intensely readable. The fact that this is a true story makes it even more so. Fans of true crime, Paris, and history will enjoy this book.