A murder in 1786 Paris turns a hack writer into a first-rate detective.
Aristide Ravel is struggling to make his bread from his writings, most of which criticize the activities of the corrupt church and weak King whose policies will lead to the horrors of the Revolution. In a cemetery, Ravel stumbles upon a murder that he connects to the Masons by the symbols cut into the body. In better times Ravel lived in the same building as police inspector Brasseur, who sees him now as both a suspect and a resource to solve the crime. When Brasseur presses Ravel into working for the police, the clever writer proves his worth by his observations and his connections to the bourgeoisie. Even though the murdered man’s body is stolen from the morgue, his distinctive waistcoat identifies him as one of two missing men: either the Marquis de Beaupréau or Monsieur Lambert Saint-Landry. Lambert’s beautiful wife Eugénie and his sister Sophie cannot imagine who would murder such an earnest man—although like the Marquis, he is a Mason. Ravel and Brasseur pursue the Masonic connection with help from Ravel’s wealthy friend Derville, whose revelation that Ravel’s father was a convicted murderer imperils Ravel’s romance with lively Sophie. Even so, Ravel’s bitterness does not stop him from pursuing the murderer from the lowest hovels to the palaces of the aristocracy.
An intriguing prequel to Ravel’s revolutionary adventures (A Treasury of Regret, 2007, etc.) with a nice twist in the denouement.