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Title: City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris by Holly Tucker
During the reign of King Louis XIV of France, a man named La Reynie was appointed as the first police chief in Paris. La Reynie worked tirelessly to bring the city’s crime under control, installing so many street lamps that Paris came to be known as the City of Light. The police chief also uncovered a complicated web of crime which brought to light the poison, witchcraft, and murder taking place even in the upper echelons of society.
This was such an ambitious book! Not only was it a monumental task to write, but it’s a challenge to read, as well. It’s like trying to take five loosely associated soap operas (with all their complicated drama), and trying to form them into one cohesive story. Not easy. I think the thing that saves the book from becoming totally unmanageable is that the subject matter is so juicy and interesting. Even if you have to keep going back to check who the characters are and what they did, you do it because you want to understand the intricacies of this twisted tale.
While reading this book, you may doubt that it’s non-fiction because of how fantastical the events are, but rest assured that this is authentic French history at its finest! I told my husband when I got done with the book that I was so glad that I wasn’t alive back then. Those were some majorly messed up people!
So, the gist of the story is that La Reynie was appointed the first official police chief of Paris–a city positively drowning in crime. The book talks about some of the general improvements and goals La Reynie had for the city, but the bulk of the story centers on a strange period of time called the Affair. In a nutshell, it was La Reynie’s investigation into some very high profile poisonings and other crimes, and the extremely tangled web he tried to unravel. You will be quite shocked by the lengths some of these nobles went to to get what they wanted.
I found the book highly interesting, but I’ll warn you that you need to be mentally on your toes to follow the story. The author necessarily had to give a lot of back story and weave together many threads, and it can be difficult to follow. There are also a few parts that might be rather uncomfortable to some readers. Most of it is towards the end of the book when the interrogations take place. Some of the things they described are just gross and offensive.
I recommend City of Lights, City of Poison to adults who enjoy history and are not afraid to hear all the ugly details. Even if you’re not a history fan, this book reads like fiction, so you would probably enjoy it, too.
- some grotesque descriptions
- some semi-explicit sexual stuff
Rating: 4 1/2 Stars
Until next time…