Monday, June 19, 2017
City of Light, City of Poison by Holly Tucker
In 1667, the "Sun King," Louis XIV of France, faced an epidemic of crime in Paris that threatened the stability of his reign. The King decided to create a single law-enforcement officer for all of Paris, replacing the ancient system of 48 commissionaires each responsible for one section of the city. This new officer would be called the Lieutenant General of Police, and would exercise broad, almost unlimited powers of surveillance and detention. He would answer directly to the King and to his chief ministers, the Marquis de Louvois (Minister for War) and Jean Baptiste Colbert (Minister of Finances).
This is the story of Louis' first Lieutenant General, Nicolas de la Reynie. Reynie began his tenure by (literally) cleaning up the streets of Paris, which were like open sewers. Then he tackled the street crime, especially the criminals who controlled the city during the dark hours. Reynie required every household to maintain lanterns to light the streets at night. He established regular patrols.
Reynie also built a network of informants not just to help catch criminals but to prevent crimes from happening. Through his spies, he discovered far more about the secrets of the Parisian underground than he’d bargained for. This secret world of thieves and cutthroats also harbored poisoners, witches, abortionists and chiromancers. Even more horrifying was the realization that those who made use of these services were not just the poor, ignorant and superstitious masses, but the wealthy, influential and powerful. The blood trail ran even to the court of Versailles, and the aristocratic women who vied for the King's favor and attention. The last straw was the discovery that several of the King's mistresses, including the infamous Marquise de Montespan, were implicated in the scandal referred to as the "Affair of the Poisons."
Although The King intervened to insure that the Marquise was never questioned or publicly implicated in the scandal, it was not long before she left court, never to return. Working from de La Reynie’s personal notes and other sources from the period (the King ordered the official reports burned), Tucker reconstructs seventeenth-century Paris, combining meticulous research and masterful storytelling to recreate a period in history that resonates disturbingly with aspects of contemporary experience.
Click HERE to read the review from Publishers Weekly.
Click HERE to read the review from Newsday.
Click HERE to read the review from the New York Journal of Books.