Holly Tucker’s non-fiction book City of Light, City of Poison documents a lesser-known period of French history. A hundred years before the French Revolution, Louis XIV presided over another turbulent era and made efforts to establish the first system of law enforcement in the country.
In the second half of the 17th century, Paris was a place that “assaulted the senses and rattled the nerves,” as Tucker writes. Fistfights, cutpurses, packs of stray dogs, streets jammed with carriages, and chamber pots being emptied from the windows onto unsuspecting passersby were daily occurrences.
But there were even darker forces at play. Unimaginable wealth of the aristocracy set against the backdrop of abject poverty of the masses gave rise to cabals of witches and poisoners who pushed magic and chemical substances that could help the rich get rid of rivals and inconvenient spouses for the right price.
Convinced that his authority would suffer if he allowed a continued lawlessness in his capital, the Sun King appointed Nicolas de La Reynie as the first lieutenant general of police. His task included cleaning up the city – but literally and figuratively – and he launched himself into it with gusto. Within months, the streets were cleaner and better lit, which in itself reduced the crime.
Still, high-profile members of the royal administration and even the royal family – including Henrietta Anne, the king’s sister-in-law – continued dying in mysterious circumstances that suggested the use of poison. It wasn’t long before La Reynie set his sights on a network of possible poisoners and began his investigations. What he discovered sent shockwaves through the court and forced Louis to cover up what could become a great embarrassment to the monarchy, and to him personally.
City of Light, City of Poison provides a glimpse into the life of 17th century Paris and the passions and greed that led many – both high and low-born – to commit unspeakable crimes. For a historical fiction author, it can also serve as a great source of background research and ideas for a novel.
If you like historical mysteries, you may enjoy Silent Water, a Jagiellon Mystery Book 1, set at the 16th century royal court in Cracow. It’s available in ebook and paperback on Amazon and FREE to read on Kindle Unlimited.
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